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Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery (Anglais) Broché – 2 mai 1996

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Art takes time. To spend an hour looking at a painting is difficult. The public gallery experience is one that encourages art at a trot. There are the paintings, the marvellous speaking works, definite, independent, each with a Self it would be impossible to ignore, if...if..., it were possible to see it. I do not only mean the crowds and the guards and the low lights and the ropes, which make me think of freak shows, I mean the thick curtain of irrelevances that screens the painting from the viewer. Increasingly, galleries have a habit of saying when they acquired a painting and how much it cost...

Millions! The viewer does not see the colours on the canvas, he sees the colour of the money.

Is the painting famous? Yes! Think of all the people who have carefully spared one minute of their lives to stand in front of it.

Is the painting Authority? Does the guide-book tell us that it is part of The Canon? If Yes, then half of the viewers will admire it on principle, while the other half will dismiss it on principle.

Who painted it? What do we know about his/her sexual practices and have we seen anything about them on the television? If not, the museum will likely have a video full of schoolboy facts and tabloid gossip.

Where is the tea-room/toilet/gift shop?

Where is the painting in any of this?

Experiencing paintings as moving pictures, out of context, disconnected, jostled, over-literary, with their endless accompanying explanations, over-crowded, one against the other, room on room, does not make it easy to fall in love. Love takes time. It may be that if you have as much difficulty with museums as I do, that the only way into the strange life of pictures is to expose yourself to as much contemporary art as you can until you find something, anything, that you will go back and back to see again, and even make great sacrifices to buy. Inevitably, if you start to even make great sacrifices to buy. Inevitably, if you start to love pictures, you will start to buy pictures. The time, like the money, can be found, and those who call the whole business élitist, might be fair enough to reckon up the time they spend in front of the television, at the DIY store, and how much the latest satellite equipment and new PC has cost.

For myself, now that paintings matter, public galleries are much less dispiriting. I have learned to ignore everything about them, except for the one or two pieces with whom I have come to spend the afternoon.

Supposing we made a pact with a painting and agreed to sit down and look at it, on our own with no distractions, for one hour. The painting should be an original, not a reproduction, and we should start with the advantage of liking it, even if only a little. What would we find?

Increasing discomfort. When was the last time you looked at anything, solely, and concentratedly, and for its own sake? Ordinary life passes in a near blur. If we go to the theatre or the cinema, the images before us change constantly, and there is the distraction of language. Our loved ones are so well known to us that there is no need to look at them, and one of the gentle jokes of married life is that we do not. Nevertheless, here is a painting and we have agreed to look at it for one hour. We find we are not very good at looking.

Increasing distraction. Is my mind wandering to the day's work, to the football match, to what's for dinner, to sex, to whatever it is that will give me something to do other than to look at the painting?

Increasing invention. After some time spent daydreaming, the guilty or the dutiful might wrench back their attention to the picture.

What is it about? Is it a landscape? Is it figurative? More promisingly, is it a nude? If the picture seems to offer an escape route then this is the moment to take it. I can make up stories about the characters on the canvas much as art-historians like to identify the people in Rembrandt's The Night Watch. Now I am beginning to feel much more confident because I am truly engaging with the picture. A picture is its subject matter isn't it? Oh dear, mine's an abstract. Never mind, would that pink suit me?

Increasing irritation. Why doesn't the picture do something? Why is it hanging there staring at me? What is this picture for? Pictures should give pleasure but this picture is making me very cross. Why should I admire it? Quite clearly it doesn't admire me...

Admire me is the sub-text of so much of our looking; the demand put on art that it should reflect the reality of the viewer. The true painting, in its stubborn independence, cannot do this, except coincidentally. Its reality is imaginative not mundane.

When the thick curtain of protection is taken away; protection of prejudice, protection of authority, protection of trivia, even the most familiar of paintings can begin to work its power. There are very few people who could manage an hour alone with the Mona Lisa.

But our poor art-lover in his aesthetic laboratory has not succeeded in freeing himself from the protection of assumption. What he has found is that the painting objects to his lack of concentration; his failure to meet intensity with intensity. He still has not discovered anything about him. He is inadequate and the painting has told him so.

It is not as hopeless as it seems. If I can be persuaded to make the experiment again (and again and again), something very different might occur after the first shock of finding out that I do not know how to look at pictures, let alone how to like them.

A favourite writer of mine, an American, an animal trainer, a Yale philosopher, Vicki Hearne, has written of the acute awkwardness and embarrassment of those who work with magnificent animals, and find themselves at a moment of reckoning, summed up in those deep and difficult eyes and for many the gaze is too insistent. Better to pretend that art is dumb, or at least has nothing to say that makes sense to us. If art, all art, is concerned with truth, then a society in denial will not find much in use for it.

In the West, we avoid painful encounters with art by trivialising it, or by familiarising it. Our present obsession with the past has the double advantage of making new work seem raw and rough compared to the cosy patina of tradition, whilst refusing tradition its vital connection to what is happening now. By making islands of separation out of the unbreakable chain of human creativity, we are able to set up false comparisons, false expectations, all the while lamenting that the music, poetry, painting, prose, performance art of Now, fails to live up to the art of Then, which is why, we say, it does not affect us. In fact, we are no more moved by a past we are busy inventing, than by a present we are busy denying. If you love a Cézanne, you can love a Hockney, can love a Boyd, can love a Rao. If you love a Cézanne rather than lip-service it. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

Revue de presse

"Courageous... Her writing is spirited and insouciant in its fusing of love of words and sensual desire" (Scotsman)

"Winterson is in fine form in these essays about art" (Observer)

"Flashes of sly wit have an epigrammatic power... On Joyce, Woolf, Conrad, Dickens and the development of English literature she is acute and always interesting...covetable, infuriating, stimulating" (Independent)

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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 19 commentaires
33 internautes sur 33 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
(I can't summarize in one line -- please read on ...) 1 novembre 1998
Par Frank Drake - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
What is our typical reaction upon completing an experience of a work of art -- be it reading a novel, listening to music, viewing a painting, or any other interaction. "Do I like it?" "What does it mean to me?" Am I entertained? Touched? Thrilled? Changed forever?

Wrong, wrong, a thousand times wrong, says the lonely voice of one Jeanette Winterson, author of a beautifully piercing set of essays collectively entitled `Art Objects' (the second word is read as a verb). Winterson makes many excellent points in this work, but for my money the best is her call to objectify art, especially the appreciation of art. A work of art is its own thing, and deserves to be taken on its own merits. If it fails at this, ok, but we need to stop seeing everything in art reflected through our own subjective prism; otherwise we risk lowering it to entertainment and diversion. We already have plenty of that; besides, art deserves better.

This seems a fresh idea, but Winterson points out that it's actually quite old -- we've merely forgotten as we've been soaked with a century and a half of Victorian frumpiness. Most of history has taken art for what it is or could be; only in our self-possessed 20th century have we demanded that art come to us personally, not actually ventured ourselves out into the artistic universe, a strange and difficult land. Winterson's historical perspectives need more flesh, but she's chosen a good villain. At her toughest, Dickens and Trollope come in for some hard knocks. At her most generous, she extols us to keep reading Victorian literature; if only we would stop writing it as well.

This would be some of the best art criticism I've read in years if it stopped there; fortunately, she presses on. If we can't subjectify art, how do we know it's worthy, good, revolutionary? We know already -- the answer is in us. Winterson points the way: look to the tools, the precision, the craft. Language is the writer's tool; how is it used? Examples are drawn from the aloof moderns -- Woolf, Stein, Eliot -- to great effect. New subject matter is not what they're after -- didn't Shakespeare pretty much exhaust every plot anyway? No, art aims higher: at new ways of thinking, new ways of seeing.

I don't think Jeanette Winterson an optimist, though she ends on an up note. She rants aplenty. Art -- especially new work -- is hard, and society likes soft. Art is currently being shunted off to the wasteland of entertainment (been to a museum lately?), off to do battle with cinema, popular music, and the great Satan itself, television. And it is sure to lose. We are simply too much in love with nostalgia, with art that "works for us." So what are we -- those of us who claim to care -- to do?

Ms. Winterson doesn't draw up a list of commandments, but I could venture a bold guess. Buy (yes, purchase) new art; voting with your wallet is one of the best ways to push work forward (see the Renaissance church for an example). Stay with a work of art for awhile; let it work on you. Don't dismiss everything within the time it takes to say "I don't like it." Appreciate the artist's craft; look for exactness. Most of all, when you're moved by something, ask yourself why, on a profound level. Is it because you made an emotional connection with the work, or the work made a larger one, say, with the world?

`Art Objects' is stuffed with stunning insights; I've not highlighted this many passages in a book since college. I suspect, however, that the author might cackle at my review. She writes in her last essay that she is perplexed by the question "what is your book about?" She appropriately finds that words to answer this question are unnecessary. The book is about itself; read it and find out.
9 internautes sur 11 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Good Start... 31 octobre 2000
Par Jeremy - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Jeanette Winterson, writes in a very lucid manner on a topic that can quickly become an extremely nebulous and splintered subject. She begins with a story of her travels to Amsterdam, where she is haunted by a painting in a window. This never happened to her before, as Winterson was always a wordsmith. The unexpected discovery-the idea that a painting has the power to touch her so deeply and so powerfully-troubles her deeply and she cowers initially, as if she saw a ghost.
This anecdote serves to create the tone of the book, an intense and honest meditation into art and art making. Winterson, weaves us through her meditation through a very readable style and by using very general terms. She simultaneously addresses the novice, to those well versed in the concepts of art history and theory of art criticism. I say this because the questions, what is art?, what is the fuction of art?, why practice art?, are basic questions that can be addressed by all levels of understanding-and it is those questions Winterson addresses. Though she begins with visual art she reverts to her expertise in the form of literature. But, the concepts are easily translated into the other art forms.
However, in her opinions of what is beauty and what is art, Winterson can seem a bit idealistic in her views of art and art making. She professes to be a little out of sync with current society(her confession)-which could be taken as a person who revers the past and therefore is a bit 'old school' in her approach to the topic, however, she does not pretend to be a final authority on the topic either.
But,the 'beauty' of this book is it can be a starting point and a gentle guide for the novice into the ongoing conversation of art and art history as well as an eloquent reminder of fundemental concepts in a splintered conversation of art theory and criticsm.
4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Intelligent Essays that slip at the end 4 février 1997
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
Exceptionally insightful and well-written essays on the place of art and the power of the visual in our society. Unfortunately the last section turns into a rather overly defensive diatribe about her own works, probably a reaction to the negative press she received about _Art & Lies_. Still well worth reading if one has any interest in representations of art, particularly painting
3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Absolutely Everyone should read this book. 11 août 1998
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
As an artist, I have never read a more wonderous piece on looking at art than Ms. Winterson's in this book. If you think you don't know anything about art, there is no better place to start than here. If you are an artist in any field, it will bring tears to your eyes. Read it outloud to someone, anyone. I dare you to be able to complete reading it without being interupted by tears of joy. The entire book is illuminating. A must have in hard cover, it is a treasure. Then, happily, we have "Gut Symetries" to move on to afterwards. This woman is priceless.
3 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
The title says it all, twice. 18 août 2000
Par Jason Mehmel - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
I should explain the title. As Jeanette will explain within the pages, art not only /objects/ with our safe notions of what we consider to be good or normal to our perceptions, but also art is also an /object/ to be handled, manipulated, and explored by our souls, with all the effort we would put into whatever coporeal object our hands might hold and seek to understand.
Having told you this, that the title encompasses so much of the book, does not mean that it does not need to be read now. Much the opposite. Though almost every essay comes back to these points, some essays deal with the subject in regards to a certain book, or just the act of creating art itself. As an artist, as any writer/painter/poet/? is, I found this to be a call to arms, in a way, inspiring me by assisting my mind in delineating exactly what I wish to create. If you are creative, read this collection.
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