Up close and personal

This post started off about something else entirely, but rapidly became a reflection on reality and the falsity of reproductions sparked by a recent visit to the Kandinsky exhibition at the Tate Modern.

Prétensions sont nous. I am sorry.

It’s very easy to think of Kandinsky as a purveyor of pretty patterns, and Composition VIII below…

Kandinsky - Composition VIII

… shows why this might be.

I’d been looking forward to wallowing sensuously in pattern, but the exhibition is much tougher and more challenging than I expected. The exhibition is explicitly about Kandinsky’s journey towards abstraction, and when you see the later works in context you can see the darkness and violence continuing through all his pieces. What struck me the most at the time was that I wanted to see Composition VII, next to Pablo Picasso’s Guernica.

Kandinsky - Composition VII

Picasso - Guernica

The Picasso is more obviously violent because the imagery is more accessible. The Kandinsky appears to be merely colour and pattern when reduced to a thumbnail or a postcard. If it was printed it on silk and sold as a scarf it would go rather well with my raspberry coloured velvet coat.

Isn’t it disturbing how much of an image’s impact is altered by these changes in scale so you can have them as fridge magnets or postcards or key-rings?

Only the original is the original. Even the versions that these thumbnails take you too, which are the largest which I could find online, are just pretty cyphers. I think I’ve seen Guernica, but of course I haven’t. My experiences are diluted and vicarious and my responses are based on lies and self-delusion.

Of course, all of the above could be written about the difference between live and recorded music. I’m struggling to remember which classical musician it was who rejected recorded music as a dead and lifeless thing and the only ones I can remember are, of course much recorded men and women. Make of that irony what you will.

I am no musical aesthete (I once found myself critiquing some Mozart by saying: it had a lot of notes in it) but I still remember the whole-body sensation of being in the Wigmore Hall and letting Debussy wash over, under, around and through me. It took about a day and a half for the feeling to wear off. Or standing in the NEC in the middle of Annie Lennox’s incredible voice, or inside the sound of Wish You were Here at a Roger Waters gig.

The point here is, once again, that reproduction does not in fact reproduce; it distances, diminishes and makes safe. A sensuous and physical response is reduced to a mental one. And worst of all, it short-changes us. We think we’ve had an experience, when in fact we have not. It wasn’t the music we heard on the radio, but a representation of the music, as is made explicit at the start of Wish you Were Here.

It is of course easier now for more people to see original art and be present when more live music is made than ever before, but that access is overtaken daily by reproductions and derivations. I’ve contributed to it myself with my thumbnails and my links.

So we have yet more examples of ways in which our lives are rich in the ertzatz, the imitation, the second-hand and the derivative, to the extent that it is more difficult than ever to see why it is worth seeking out the original, which will only be lumpy, bumpy, harder work, and more challenging.

A genetically modified strawberry, anyone?

4 responses to “Up close and personal

  1. Most intelligent point. I agree. After two nights in a row standing in the yard at the Globe (Comedy of Errors and Anthony and Cleopatra) I am feeling exceedingly challenged about the ankles. Nevertheless, the yard is THE place for Shakespeare. You get swept up not just by seeing the the play, but by the fact you are part of the play. Of course, the audience is always part of the play, but it’s easier not to notice this when reclining at some distance on a velveteen fold-down seat.

  2. I’m not really into abstract but having bought a book for a friend at uni on Kandinsky and reading it before giving it to her(the book that is) the journey from colourist to abstract was fascinating. Mostly though I just love the cool way he drew boats as a curve with a few straight lines for oars. He may have used music to influence his stuff but you can’t beat a good basic boat!

    Must get down there to see it.

  3. God I’m so RUDE. It’t taken me almsot a year to get back to you.

    Ag, your comments about the globe have stuck with me as the purist way to see Shakespeare but I’m not sure if my ankles could stand it.

    Alfster, did you get to the exhibition. And you are right, you cannot beat a good basic boat.


  4. Pingback: It’s clever but is it art? « Aphra Behn - danger of eclectic shock

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