Monday, June 6, 2011


(Picasso's Guernica)

In Dore Ashton’s A Critical Study of Philip Guston, she sets up two opposite directions for art: the lyrical and the grotesque. The former, consisting primarily of abstract forms, allows the artist to step away – and sometimes step above – the horror of the world. The latter takes the horror on.

I’m not such a fan of the word “grotesque,” because it implies all ugly with no hope of redemption. George Condo, for example, is grotesque. But Ashton seems to use the word “caricature” interchangeably with the word grotesque, and that makes me understand her term a bit better. Picasso’s Guernica is cited as an example of the grotesque.

She says some artist lines tend towards caricature. (I think mine do.) Nowadays that kind of line is often called cartoony, but I think caricature is a fuller word meaning both essence and distortion at the same time. The opposite of caricature might be “visually realistic.”

With postmodernism in the 80s and 90s, terms aren’t so established anymore and therefore the lyrical-grotesque division isn’t so neat. You can really be in between terms, or be both, or mean different things by either. Over at Two Coats of Paint, Sharon Butler proposes that concepts like “incompleteness” or even “failure” are more accurate ways to talk about what drives contemporary abstract painting forward to completion.

I think the more words the merrier. Just pick on purpose.

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