Francis Bacon on art and society


FB Well, I have often manipulated things so that they
should come to my rescue. 1 think I’m one of those people
who have a gift for always getting by somehow. Even if it’s a
case of stealing or something like that, I don’t feel any moral
thing against it. I suppose that’s an extremely egocentric
attitude. It would be a nuisance to be caught and put in
prison, but I don’t have any feeling about stealing. Now that
I earn money, it would be a kind of stupid luxury to go out
and steal. But when I had no money, I think I often used to
take what I could get.

DS I have the impression that following one’s impulses and
accepting the consequences and ignoring security isn’t just
the way you yourself behave; it’s also a prejudice that
governs your view of society. I mean that you talk as if the
concept of the welfare state, with its guarantee of certain
kinds of security, seems to you a sort of perversion of life.

FB Well, I think that being nursed by the state from the
cradle to the grave would bring such a boredom to life. But
in saying that, it may be something to do with that have
never had the morality of poverty. And therefore I can’t
think of anything more boring than that everything was
looked after for you from your birth to your death. But
people seem to expect that and think it is their right. I think
that, if people have that attitude to life, it curtails – I believe
this, I cannot prove it – the creative instinct. It would be
difficult to understand why. But I never believe one should
have any security and never expect to keep any. (more…)


Worringer’s Egyptians

Wilhelm Worringer was one of the most remarkable art historian/cultural theorists of the first half of the twentieth century. While he was a significant, if unintentional influence, on movements like Expressionism and different strains of abstraction, he seems to rarely be read at this point, while more dubious parasites on his work (such as Benjamin) have been glorified beyond reason. Worringer’s Abstraction and Empathy (1907) was a key text for T.E. Hulme and Wyndham Lewis and his lesser known book on Egyptian art is remarkably consonant with much of what Lewis was arguing about art in the 20s and 30s. A student of Simmel, Worringer managed to be one of the best sociologists of modernity by not writing about modernity at all.

Vivant Denon's etching of the Sphinx of Giza, 1798

Egyptian Art (1928) was written as a polemic against what Worringer regarded as a false idea of Egyptian profundity, one accorded to them by a “glorification of the abstruse.” (27) He pinpoints an irony in the fact that what Europeans glorified in the Ancient Egyptians often seems formally comparable to that which they claim to despise about America (judging by the inclusion of Canadian examples, he means the northern continent in general). (x) His project then was to de-romaticize and de-heroicize the Egyptians, whose ancient civilization have been distorted through their late ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘degenerate’ phase after they had been infected by Hellenistic and Roman society and eroticized in their exotic qualities. False eroticism is coupled with false religiosity. If the Egyptians have a reputation for spiritual profundity this is due to the “fascinating power of the senseless. Nothing has a more profound effect than paradox.” (15) This paradox is the simultaneity of high material culture with a senseless ideal one. (16) The confusion of this  resulted in immense fantasies for hidden or secret depths beyond the stereotypes and fancies, fantasies that are unattuned to the fact that “the heart-beat is audible only under pathological conditions.” (18) (more…)

Modern antiques and artificial eternity


“The atrophy of individual culture through the hypertrophy of objective culture is one reason for the bitter hatred which the preachers of the most extreme individualism, above all Nietzsche, harbor against the metropolis.” Simmel

Charles Baudelaire by Frantisek KupkaBaudelaire casts the city and the modern as a kind of paradox. History is the transitory stretched out in eternity. The modern or contemporary consists of the most ephemeral aspect of the wastage of time’s passing. To be a great modern artist is to capture this excess as though it were eternal rather than to trap it within the cliches of the Historical or Classical. To be modern is to live within the specific gaits and gestures of one’s time, that is, to prepare to be an antique. The painter “makes it his business to extract from fashion whatever element it may contain of poetry within history, to distill the eternal from the transitory.” But the modern individual is no more than an animated antique. Their external life is all artifice, but this is the very material that constitutes them and which the artist captures (an artist only captures artifice and this is the ‘truth’ or the ‘soul’ of the matter). And from this matter Baudelaire spins more paradoxes: the nobility proper to artifice; the savagery found in civilization; the evil devoid of any spirituality. And each member of this trinity finds itself diagrammed out upon the body of the city and its inhabitants with their “emaciated flesh of consumption or the rounded contours of obesity, that hideous health of the slothful.” (more…)