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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Fear, Loss, and Death Anxiety, Not Op

posted by on October 25 at 11:29 AM

The Village Voice’s Jerry Saltz

Grotjahn allows you to grasp that one-point perspective is a system that continually brings you to the same point and that this point asserts itself as optical law. Perspective is entirely about order and the psychological pleasure of the illusion of looking into space. One of the mad benefits of this maniacal ordering is that each person is also granted the demented, deluded position of being a god. You, the maharaja of all that you survey, are the fixed singularity that all things rush from or toward. It’s very lonely, insanely Freudian, and likely has to do with fear, loss, and death anxiety.

on the paintings of Mark Grotjahn



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I've been interested in Grotjahn for the past few months, and I agree with Saltz's thesis until the point about loneliness. I see the paintings as the opposite of lonely. To me they are ecstatic like a Buddhist monk is ecstatic (knowing ten things, speaking of only nine), in that they subject almost all viewers to a distant and solemn but nonetheless shared experience. Whatever is going on with the seeming multiplicity or the illusion of separateness or divergence, the thing that every person can agree on is that singularity--where it's just as easy to see the unity of Everything as it is to see one's ridiculous and lonesome Neuschwanstein. However you want it--looking backward into birth or forward into death--that single point is the utter commonality of not only humans but of all things.

Posted by Nick | October 25, 2006 11:46 AM

And what is demented or deluded about being "maharaja," anyway? That's just Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle writ large.

Posted by Nick | October 25, 2006 11:49 AM

I don't know nothing about multiplicities of visions or Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, but slowly scrolling past those Grotjahn paintings makes my eyes tingle in the loveliest way.

Posted by David Schmader | October 25, 2006 11:53 AM

Nick, I should have been more clear. Saltz is saying that Grotjahn upends perspectival law, so I think he'd agree with your reading of the paintings as entirely un-lonely. Where you'd diverge is that he's equating loneliness with one-point (singular, i.e. lonely-making) perspective, and you're taking it as a universal, unifying sensation. I think I agree with Saltz on this one. Looking back at birth/forward at death may be a commonality, but it sure as hell doesn't feel like one, perhaps more than any other commonality.

What the hell do you mean by maharaja/Heisenberg? I'm intrigued.

The whole story is here:,saltz,74787,13.html

Posted by Jen Graves | October 25, 2006 11:59 AM

Saltz exemplifies the reason why I can't stand most art writing. He's describing a optical phenomenon as if it was a philosophical one. But the real action in the paintings isn't between optics and philosophy, but between optics and drawing. I like the pictures quite a bit (and they DO sparkle neatly when scrolled on the screen), but Saltz's words contribute NOTHING. They don't describe, they don't explain, they don't help me see.

Posted by Fnarf | October 25, 2006 12:06 PM

Darest Thou Now O Soul
By Walt Whitman

Darest thou now O soul,
Walk out with me toward the unknown region,
Where neither ground is for the feet nor any path to follow?

No map there, nor guide,
Nor voice sounding, nor touch of human hand,
Nor face with blooming flesh, nor lips, nor eyes, are in that land.

I know it not O soul,
Nor dost thou, all is a blank before us,
All waits undream'd of in that region, that inaccessible land.

Till when the ties loosen,
All but the ties eternal, Time and Space,
Nor darkness, gravitation, sense, nor any bounds bounding us.

Then we burst forth, we float,
In Time and Space O soul, prepared for them,
Equal, equipt at last, (O joy! O fruit of all!) them to fulfil O soul.


Posted by Nick | October 25, 2006 12:14 PM

yay FNARF! most art writers don't make art they burn it! um, and linear perspective doesn't actually exist, Cezanne is good proof of that, it's a system used to illustrate 3D space in 2D. so...what does Grotjahn have to say about HIS paintings?

Posted by nipper | October 25, 2006 1:08 PM

OK, Grotjahn lovers: Which one of the following is better, and why?

I vote for the monochromes, because they sneak up on you. Trouble is, the others are so damned appealing ...

Posted by Jen Graves | October 25, 2006 1:29 PM

Hm, these just leave me with the impression I'm looking at something ripped from Doug Trumbell's "slit-scan effect" from "2001: A Space Odyssey".

Posted by COMTE | October 25, 2006 1:31 PM

Well, I think John Berger would qualify the statement that one-point perspective as a system grants "each person" the position of a god/maharaja, since it developed in an era predating public museums and mass mechanical reproduction of images, when ownership/viewership of paintings was concentrated in the extreme upper classes (and the Church). Thus, far from saying anything about personal (whether individual or shared) dementia, delusion, or loneliness, perspective as a system served to confirm/reinforce the existing political, economic, and social power of the intended viewer (the purchaser/owner of the painting). God, I love John Berger. I think they ought to hurry up and give him the Nobel Prize before he kicks off, but I suppose that won't happen.

Posted by David | October 25, 2006 2:12 PM

On the butterfly wings, I like the colored one better. That's on a monitor, not in real life, of course. On the first batch, I like the monochrome one better; the colors are attractive but the drawing is much more interesting on the black'n'cream one. I love me some wavering lines.

Oh, and you guys should make Nipper your new music editor; he's the only staffer you've got with GOOD TASTE.

Posted by Fnarf | October 25, 2006 2:22 PM

James Carville as channeled by Clement Greenberg:

"It's the paint, stupid."

The ubiquitous Duchampianism:

"Aesthetic delectation is the danger to be avoided."

Can't have it both ways, can we?

Posted by TotorT'um | October 25, 2006 4:01 PM

David Schnell generates the same kind of spatial uneasiness with an overdetermination of perspective -- he employs it ecstatically (and a little obnoxiously) until it's ready to implode, or at least kinda throw up a little in it's own mouth.

I'm not sure I'm grabbing ahold of Salz's "insanity of oneness" bit, though. Jacques Attali speaks about music as something that "affirms that society is possible", by arranging noise, making it ordered and public. If we want to say that the laws of perspective work the same way as a particular set of musical codes/laws do, then Grotjahn is all about death insanity and chaos, by destroying perspective and exposing the mess of experience that it organizes/conceals.

(As an aside, since when did similarities to early 20th century painters constitute "old-fashionedness")

Posted by scott carver | October 25, 2006 8:32 PM

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