Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Drawn to Steinberg: "I am a Writer who Draws"

I want to end this first year (seven months actually) of blogging for the Museum of Peripheral Art with a nice round number of posts, 50. It seems fitting since tomorrow is a round Blue Moon on New Year's Eve. Tomorrow I will post an annual report for 2009.

This morning I was searching through my half-baked essays but none were ready to post today. For some reason Saul Steinberg kept flashing through my mind during my train commute. Perhaps it was because of recent conversations about cartoons and their place in the artworld or perhaps it was because Saul is such a peripheral character:

"I am on the edge of the art world. I'm not sure that being in the center is the proper place for an artist. An artist has to have a precarious situation."

I was searching through some old notes and found these relevant entries from Steinberg at The New Yorker by Joel Smith:

Drawing's real subject, for Steinberg, was the movement of a pen point through time and over paper - a movement subsequently re-created by the complicity of a viewer's eye tracing the line and extracting from it, like a phonograph needle from a groove, the music of ideas that had set the stylus in motion. (p30)

"People who see a drawing in The New Yorker will think automatically that it's funny because it is a cartoon. If they see it in a museum, they think it is artistic; and if they find it in a fortune cookie, they think it's a prediction...I try to make them jittery by giving them situations that are out of context and contain several interpretations." (p32)

"This is not a pipe," the famous disclaimer inscribed on Rene Magritte's painting of a pipe, epitomizes modern art's prickly insistence on being seen as something more than illustration. Cartoons, on the other hand, are predicated on their transparency' without knowing the set-up, who's speaking, what the upshot is - no joke. Steinberg considered painting and collage "delights compared with the torture of finding an idea and then representing it in a less personal way, since otherwise you spoil the clarity of the idea." He had complained in 1949 that cartoon work was "depressing because once you've found the idea you must completely change your way of thinking in order to find another. It would be nice instead to do many variations on the same theme but unfortunately that's considered repetition." (pp38,39)

"The cliche is the expression of the culture of a period. Most artists are not original, but their use of cliches defines the generation. We judge a period by its cliches, by the quality of its lousy art." (p182)