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March 06, 2006
The aim of art according to Deleuze and Guattari
Follow-up to The artwork as monument, active memory, time of the artist from Art
Why artistic creativity? A new perspective on the world? A recording of events. Or a new world? The creation of events.
Painters and sculptors go to extraordinary lengths in order to create the "monuments" to their struggles, their works. In creating, capturing and preserving the "time of the artist" they carve out a slice of their chaosmos, cut from their plane of immanance, relative to a virtuality. This may all cease to exist at any time, and may even be destroyed by the artistic act itself – a painful surgery or self-mutilation (Van Gogh). The surgical method is this: reduce the world and its vast circuits to a small repetitive loop. In the case of Cezanne, the loop circulates and re-circulates between Mont Saint Victoire, the palette and its oils (themselves reduced to a few greens and blues), the hand, the brush or knife, and the canvas. In this way the artwork is built up over time through a kind of mangrove effect not disimilar to that described by Andy Clark.
Everything is invested – "the artist is already in the canvas" (Deleuze, Logic of Sensation). Then make each run of the circuit entirely dependent upon the last, each time applying a filter modulated by the results of the previous passage (Cezanne, Van Gogh, Bacon and others replace an optical filter with a haptic filter). The circuit carves out an escape route within the imprisonment of actuality. The loops are repetitions, movements between points, but across different virtualities or the infinite and irreducible but necessary slices of reality. This opening up of new degrees of movement is the experiment of the diagram. It is a high risk operation. With so much vested in a small and critical set of functions, catastrophe is always near at hand. In his treatment of Francis Bacon, Deleuze quite rightly argues that painting is the artform that takes this risk to its most extreme. This is true. The consequences of architecture, for example, are too great. Few architects are prepared to go there (Libeskind?). Perhaps only in improvisational jazz does music reduce everything to catastrophe or the sublime. Otherwise there are too many chances of a second take. Bacon happily destroyed botched canvases, but it was almost too much for him both artistically and financially.
What then drives artists to the edge of disaster or beyond?
1) There is the attraction of the unknown and unknowable, the promise of a critical passage across some absolute threshold. Beyond this pure event, the world would be transformed. Something impossible would come to pass (surrealism). Behind this drive is the knowledge that this passage must have already happened at least once: the artist and the world as it is having come alive. But also the belief that it can happen again. The creation of substance, the irreducibly different, sharing no attributes. The impossible as possible. The artist thus seeks to create something new and substantial for themselves and the world. Joan Miro, for example, explored a rarifying seriality in order to create art as new substance: As Andre Breton commented on Miro's Constellations:
"They belong together and differ from one another like the aromatic or cyclic series of elements in chemistry. If one considers them both in their development and as a whole, each of them assumes necessity and value like a constituent in a mathematical series. And finally, they give the word 'series' that special meaning by their uninterupted and exemplary sequence." Miro by Janis Mink, Taschen 2000.
Felix Guattari described this creation of artistic discovery, and the mutant subjectivities that it makes possible, as akin to the rarifying seriality of chemistry, creating something substantial and necessary:
"In this conception of analysis, time is not something to be endured; it is activated, oriented, the object of qualitative change… A singualrity, a rupture of sense, a cut, a fragmentation, the detachment of a semiotic content – in a dadaist or surrealist manner – can originate mutant nuclei of subjectivation. Just as chemistry has to purify complex mixtures to extract atomic and homogeneous molecular matter, thus creating an infinite scale of chemical entities that have no prior existence, the same is true in the 'extraction' and 'seperation' of aesthetic subjectivities or partial objects…that make an immense complexification of subjectivity possibile – harmonies, polyphonies, counterpoints, rhythms and existential orchestrations, until know unheard and unknown." Chaosmosis (page 19)
Seriality and rarefaction is similarly employed by other painters, inlcuding Cezanne and Bacon. Also common to these artists is the prevailing terror of plunging into one of these cycles only to find no way out, that the filter or diagram no longer applies to the product of the cycle: the catastrophe.
2) And more commonly, there is an incremental investigation of objects partially apprehended at the limit. An often shy and nervous peering into things. But sometimes a full-on and clinical dissection of orders and lineages (abstraction). This investigation is often undertaken with a degree of altruism. Whether the aim is to reveal more clearly some necessary aspect of Being, or simply to help us to see objects with greater clarity, the artist may act in the interests of our perceptual powers and faculty of judgement.
Kant gives us these two modes of art in the Critique of Judgement. The artistic event as trans-liminal, as a virtuality (the sublime) eventualizing actuality (the time of the transcendental subject or artist). And the event as a series of dispatches, taken from a view of the edge, passing freely over infinite modulations of intensity, but always staying firmly this side of reason – communication, a sense in comunis, a beautiful passage.
Questions for Deleuze and Guattari's aesthetics:
- is it underpinned by this distinction?
- do they consider the creation of new substance to be the role of art? – if so, what does this mean, is it feasible, how does it work?
Also, see the essay by Isobelle Stengers for Deleuze's discussion of the difference between the limit and the threshold.
The artwork as monument, active memory, time of the artist
In their What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari claim that the artwork is a "monument". What does this mean? What is "monumental"? Why do all artworks have to be monumental? How can a painting be a monument? For this aesthetic theory to be meaningful, these questions must be addressed. But as will be demonstrated, an effective answer requires that we reconsider the relationship between artist, artwork and "viewer", adopting a position that sees them as much more intimately connected across space and time. This result in an approach to aesthetics that, unlike many, is concerned with the process of creation rather than consumption. The "viewer" is not excluded, but rather enters into that ongoing process which itself exists permanently in the artwork.
Firstly, put aside preconceptions about the nature of monumental art and monuments. We are not saying that the artwork has to be a massive stone edifice. It can be small or large, occupying any form shaped from any substance. Or more precisely, the monument is insubstantial in that its monumentalism acts as an open deterritorializing force, capable of forming a plane of consistency with all-comers. This is what Francis Bacon called the "matter of factness" of the painting, its materiality. Substances are materials locked into a determination that rejects connections and deterritorializations. The monument overflows substance in a hyper-connectivity with matter. The distinction is made more clearly in A Thousand Plateaus. I suggest that we read "abstract machine" as synonymous with "monument" (or perhaps the monument is a genus of abstract machine):
An abstract machine in itself is not physical or corporeal ( Guattari - it is an incorporeal complexity enabling possibility or freedom of movement ), any more than it is semiotic; it is diagramatic (it knows nothing of the distinction between the artificial and natural either). It operates by matter, not by substance; by function, not by form. The abstract machine is pure Matter-Function – a diagram independent of the forms and substances, expressions and contents it will distribute. A Thousand Plateaus, On Several Regimes of Signs p.141
What does it mean for the abstract machine or monument to "function"? A function is an operation of conversion or transformation. As they say in the opening of Anti-Oedipus: "the machine only functions when it breaks down" – that is, the machine functions by breaking down matter locked into substances, de-substantializing, deterritorializing. The monument or abstract machine is therefore a deterritorializing agent.
Returning to the common understanding of "what is a monument?" – it's not size or form that matters, but rather it is the active memory contained in the monument. Monuments are intended to remind, to recall an event, or more usually a life. Monument-momento. An effective monument goes further, re-awakening some distant aspect of that which is remembered. It may well be some actual detail of the commemorated life that the monument is intended to stir, but in order for that actuality to have sense, we must accept and share in the virtuality (the real but inactual extension to potential infinity of the plane of immanence, "a slice of chaos that acts like a sieve") of the commemorated life that is a condition for the possibility of that life.
The monument is threfore a portal, allowing us to move into a different world, and for that world to move into ours. To view an artwork then is an active process of being deterritorialized. Deleuze (in Logic of Sensation, and with Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus) seeks to show how the abstract machine may be inscribed with a diagram illustrating or coding the route through the portal, the lines of deterritorialization, of matter cossing transversally out of substance. They say that the diagram makes a suggestion pulling us out of a determination towards something otherwise impossible. So it is more than just a edifice, a block of percepts and affects. It is crafted so as to deterritorialize, to attract matter into it and carry it away to another plane. One enters an artwork through the path suggested by the diagram. The monument calls upon us to add to the active memory present in the artwork, we step into the artwork, rather than percieving it analytically from afar.
Could the momument then be some kind of time machine? This is a serious claim, or at least a claim made by serious philosophers. Perhaps its re-presentation of the past offers a logic of resolution to make sense of the present? Recall Hegel's monument, which forms the centrepoint to his Aesthetics – the Tower of Babel, universal translator of forms. The architect Daniel Libeskind is familiar with the consequences of this monumentalism. In his Chamberworks, Architectural Meditations on the Themes from Heraclitus, he talks of his work to overcome this error:
When time itself is rendered meaningless by reversing its irreversible presence, then the practice of architecture becomes the case of the false pleading the cause of reconcilliation. The Space of Encounter, p.49
This leads to the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which is certainly not a false reconcilliation. It is deliberately not a monument in which a single sense is made of a re-presented history. Rather, it draws in and abstracts further a vast collection of histories (matters of facts, names etc), it acts as a convertor between the planes, and becomes immanent to them, that is to say, is of the same material plane, adding further to the complexity of those virtualities. It remains a monument in the sense described above, a portal between disconnected planes.
What emerges in differentiated experience is architecture as an index of the relationship between what was and what will be. p50
…index :- diagram, graph, portal?
The Museum is a success in that it reaches out beyond its site, connecting two vast virtualities (Jewish Berlin, modern Germany and Europe).
Architecture as a practice of control has projected over itself an immanent frame sufficient to reveal something without. p.49
We have then discounted the notion of the monument as some kind of dialectical tardis. Lets not be sentimental about it. But we still need to understand its diagram, how it works to deterritorialize and connect differentiated substances, pulling us out of one virtuality and into another. Again Libeskind has a suggestion drawn from his practice:
If one thinks of music, what could be more immaterial, what could leave less of a trace in actual experience than music? On the other hand, of course, architecture has always been associated with weight, with matter, with public activity. p.51
The suggestion is that the monument encapsulates a rhythm of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, of pleats of matter rising and falling relative to each other, forming tonalities, a whole music of matter that penetrates substance and carries it away into the plane. The monument is then not a static edifice, it is a continual circulation of matter, captured at some point in history, relative to a virtuality which otherwise disappears. It captures a slice of reality, holds it, and then releases it again in the future, in our aesthetic encounter. Libeskind seeks the musical within architecture, within his monuments. This seems to be a paradox, but is merely the task of a great artist.
(Note, a building is an abstract machine for living – a monument rich with music and incorporeal complexity.)
Deleuze and Guattari go further: artworks are monuments. All artworks? What does, for example, Cezanne's painting of Mont Saint Victoire commemorate? In paint it captures a circulation of matter ever connected with the mountain. The rhythm of brush strokes is, as Cezanne claimed, the rhythm of the mountain, of nature as he lived it. His method always struggled to capture the tension, the pattern of connections of those rhythms, to make them permanent in a monument ( more on Cezanne ):
This is what one must achieve. If I reach too high or too low, everything is a mess. There must not be a single loose strand, a single gap through which the tension, the light, the truth can escape. I have all the parts of my canvas under control simultaneously. If things are tending to diverge, I use my instincts and beliefs to bring them back together again. Everything that we see disperses, fades away. Nature is always the same, even though its visible manifestations eventually cease to exist. Our art must shock nature into permanence, together with all the components and manifestations of change. Art must make nature eternal in our imagination. What lies behind nature? Nothing perhaps. Perhaps everything. Everything, you understand. So I close the errant hand. I take the tones of colour I see to my right and my left, here, there, everywhere, and I fix these gradations, I bring them together. They form lines, and become objects, rocks, trees, without my thinking about it. They acquire volume, they have an effect. When these masses and weights on my canvas correspond to the planes and spots which I see in my mind and which we see with our eyes, then my canvas closes its fingers. It does not waver. It does not reach too high or too low. It is true, it is full. cited in Cezanne by Ulrike Becks-Malorny, Taschen 2001
The painting captures what the artist David Burrows has called "the time of the artist". It is a monument to that time. It draws us into that time and the rhythms and tones that constitute it's plane.