Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Right Arm of Madame X

Geesh - it's been a while! I apologize, in case you were actually waiting for a post; I was away on business for my actual job, in Minneapolis, where the snow was. And just generally crushed under work.

Down to business. Last night at Spring Street Studios, I ran into a little bit of synchronicity. Maya, the model (from Uzbekhistan!), struck a pose where her left arm was positioned very similarly to that of Virginie Gautreau's right arm in John Singer Sargent's Madame X (which, incidentally, is at the Met, if you want to go there and look at it yourself). Here's Maya's arm - my apologies for crudity, it was a 5-minute pose:

And here's the Sargent painting:

Striking, que non? It was very exciting to see. But why was this so synchronous? Well, because I had been thinking about the Sargent painting anyway, owing to having stumbled across this post at Claudia's excellent blog, Museworthy (it's in the blog roll on the right here).

The key part that I was thinking about was this (and it's supported with biographical details in the full post):
I just can’t get past the nagging sense that Madame X is a study in vanity – a portrait of a haughty, pretentious, and, to some degree, fraudulent woman whose mission in life was to marry well, move in prestigious circles, attend parties, and pose for the prominent artists of the time. YAWN. Give me Dora Maar. Or one of Toulouse Lautrec’s can-can girls. Or Van Gogh’s prostitutes. Or ANY person besides this narcissistic social climber.
I found this troubling, and it took me a while to locate the concept that I was intuitively applying to it. But before I get to that, I'd like to address Claudia directly, in case she happens to read this: Claudia, I disagree with you on this point, but I love your blog and respect your analysis and opinions.

The concept I was searching for was "negative capability." This concept apparently originates with John Keats, who says:
I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.
Now, as in the case of pataphysics, I have an idiosyncratic use of this concept, which originates with the friend who first introduced me to it, and whom my current research reveals to have totally not known what he was talking about - but his misinterpretation made the concept more useful.

First of all, he thought it was Ezra Pound who cooked it up. And he thought it meant, or at least described it to mean, "The capability of the person partaking of a work of art to suspend ordinary ethical judgments in contemplation of the characters, actions, and ideas depicted therein." This is captured more simply in the title of a book about David Cronenberg shooting Naked Lunch: Everything is Permitted (apparently an old phrase from the assassins, now that I google it).

I think this second version of the concept of negative capability is tremendously important in interacting with art. There is one school of thought that says that art influences what you think and do, so art ought to depict and promote goodness. And I credit this school of thought with validity. It leads to an art of virtue, a scrubbed-clean art that expresses what is neutral or good.

There is a second school of thought, which I personally subscribe to, which says that art is not the same as thinking and doing in real life. In art, phenomena may occur which one can think and do in real life, and which one ought not to think and do in real life. One ought not to be an Iago or a Stavrogin.

Within this second school of thought, it is fine and good to condemn an Iago or a Stavrogin if you meet him on the street. But when you encounter an Iago or a Stavrogin in a piece of art, you must exert negative capability: you must set aside your ordinary revulsion and examine what you see with zero moral bias.

Why? Because Iago and Stavrogin are as surely a part of the condition of being as are Joan of Arc and Konstantin Levin. We are enjoined as participants in the world to do good only; but we are required as free agents to know good and evil alike. And if we do not enact evil, then we must learn it by self-examination and by examination of the works of insightful men and women - the artists, the philosophers, and the priests. If we do not know about evil also, then we are incomplete souls; crippled.

It is insufficient to say, "I do not have evil in me." Primarily because it is not true. On this point, I side more with Christ than Socrates; we all have evil in us. We will be blind-sided by our evil impulses if we do not train ourselves in the knowledge of evil.

But, argue you, to behold evil is to absorb it - it is to let the devil through the door.

This is true. You cannot look at an Iago or a Stavrogin, you cannot really see him, without becoming cognizant of evil in yourself. To look deeply at any phenomenon with moral content is an act not of seeing, but of recognizing.

That evil has just now entered, as you beheld it, is an illusion. Evil is already in the house; Iago and Stavrogin merely let you name it and count its legs. Innocence, it is true, that state of childhood, has no cognizance of evil. But likewise it has no cognizance of good. Without the option of evil, no good choice has moral content. To take up the burden of knowledge of evil is part of the task of becoming mature, of becoming a human adult. And it is at the feet of the masters, of the Shakespeares and the Dostoyevskys, that we become adults - become free, and becoming free, gain the ability to choose to do good.

So this, for me, is why negative capability (the Ezra Pound version) is so important in interacting with art.

This is also why I disagree with Claudia about Madame X. Claudia's analysis is absolutely correct. This painting is a portrait of vanity. And it is particularly repellent because Sargent himself does not display negative capability in his work. He does not take the detached and benevolent approach that says, "This is what this is; this is human too." No, he supports and indulges the vanity, he makes the image reflect the vain self-delusion of the subject.

I have always kind of assumed that Sargent had a big crush on Gautreau (I have also assumed, without bothering to read a single biographical thing about him, that he was a homosexual who preferred to hang out with women and straight men). So I think that he thought Gautreau was a dazzling marvelous creature, and he wanted to pay tribute to her fabulousness with this troubling and wonderful painting.

Fortunately for us, Sargent the artist gets the better of Sargent the man. Or, we might say, the human condition cannot be concealed. We do not entirely buy into the ambition of the painting. We see, as Claudia sees, that it is the outcome of a complicity between a vain woman and a smitten man. And this too increases our wisdom about vice and weakness, and enriches our understanding of the range of human nature. In real life, these vices are cruel, banal and destructive. Transmogrified into an artistic image, they blaze with life and light - they are redeemed.

This is important. I believe that there is nothing in the soul that can be called, in itself, evil and ugly. Evil and ugliness creep in when we decide what to do with the material from which we are made. The finest of wicked men make their will to evil into art, and the art saves them from their monstrosity. The rest of them hide their will to evil, and it poisons them. And the worst of them give their will to evil free rein, and they become evil in fact, and not just in inclination.

But Sargent is small change on the scale of corruption. Sargent, a gentle and upright man, doesn't really know about sin. I can think of a painter who is much more troubling - who really puts our negative capability to the test. My friends, if you don't already know him, allow me to introduce you to Balthasar Klossowski de Rola, called Balthus:

Monday, February 8, 2010

Buffyverse Eye-ology

While we're talking about curvature of the lower lid outward of the midpoint of the eye - there's Faith:

And there's Jenny Calendar's creepy uncle:

Wow, I noticed something about Buffy that doesn't already have a whole dissertation about it somewhere on the Internet.

Joss Whedon totally owes me a cookie.

On Eyes: Point of Focus, Lower Lid Shape

A while back, Pengo asked if I might write something about eyes. I've been procrastinating on that, because, well, eyes have been pretty well covered and it's not that easy to find illustrations for the few points I have to make. But I do have a few things to say about eyes that I haven't read already elsewhere. Here are the less important points:

1. Point of Focus - or lack of it. In humans, both eyes tend to look at the same thing. We are very good at reading what a person is looking at - from a straightforward look at something in the far distance, to a cross-eyed look at something close to the person.

Imagine two dotted lines extending forward from the eyes. Each eye is aimed down its own line. It is natural for the lines to be parallel (looking straight ahead into the distance), and it is natural for them to converge (some degree of cross-eye). There is no natural circumstance where the lines diverge.

However, there is a strong emotional content to such a representation. It is not an inward look: it is a defocused outward look. It virtually always reads as if the person's soul had been crushed by some circumstance or suffering, leaving them not introspective but vacant. It is a tremendously powerful configuration of the eyes if portrayed properly. I first became aware of it when I saw the poster for Julie Taymor's one good movie to date, Titus. The expression on Anthony Hopkins's face says it all, and I sat down at the time to figure out why:

The points of focus diverge. I came across this exceedingly rare depiction again recently, in a self-portrait by Israeli-Russian artist Yefim Ladizhinsky:

This is an effective tool to keep in your bag of tricks as a painter. And that's what I have to say about that.

2. Lower Lid Shape.

Artists give a lot of thought to the upper lid of the eye, because it is in the raising, lowering, and squinching of this lid that emotions are most directly expressed. To the extent we think about the lower eyelid at all, we are accustomed to thinking of it as a circle arc symmetric about the horizontal midpoint of the eye. This is almost never true. In most caucasians (and let's face it, most of what I know is about caucasians) there is a slight dip downward toward the inner corner:

After a little messing around with things that don't work, most artists also eventually figure out this shape, and apply it without further individuation to all eyes. Bad idea, artists!

I first became conscious of the reverse configuration when I was trying to figure out why Sarah Michelle Gellar had strangely emotional eyes. Check her out:

That's right, my friends. Her lower lids curve down to their lowest points farther to the sides of her head than that axis of symmetry. This makes her look very emotional, pretty much all the time. I have a hypothesis about this too.

Because the lowest points in her lower lids are not where we expect them to be, we have a preconscious impression that something is actively weighing them down. And what's the one thing that usually weighs eyelids down? Tears. Therefore, we have a vague impression that her lower lids are always brimming with tears. Of course, on Buffy, they usually are. But even when they aren't, we think they are.

This lower lid shape is fairly rare, but people who have this shape have an unusual emotional intensity to their eyes. Most artists don't know to depict this shape because even when they are looking at it, they don't see past the stereotyped eye-shape template in their minds. Well, except for the artists who draw Buffy comics:

Sooner or later, most of them figure it out.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

All Packed Up

You know what this is?This is a blurry cell-phone photograph of my painting Tree of Knowledge getting packed in a beautiful crate made by Alexandra's dad. It was selected for the Au Naturel group show at Clatsop Community College in Astoria, Oregon. So if all goes well, I may never see it in person again. All goes well = someone buys it. I can't make it to the show opening myself.

Can I just say, this crate is gorgeous? I had passed on the measurements to Alexandra's dad, and the interior fits them perfectly. At all pressure points, it is lined with soft padding. Its lid is attached with powerful hinges, and is held shut by ten screws. It is one of the simplest and most satisfying utilitarian objects I have had the pleasure to own.

Now I need to call the shipping company.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Edges and Edge Detection Part 2: A Word from Harold Speed

Well, back to the business at hand.

It should be clear by now that I have bothered to read only three serious books on art: the Rodin, the Livingstone, and the Harold Speed. I mean, I've skimmed through some other stuff, but you're going to have to wait on me developing some discipline if you're just checking in here to find out what I have to say about Ruskin.

With the mighty armor of my ignorance in mind, let's see what Harold Speed has to say about edges. Whereas Livingstone covers the topic in terms of the empirical mechanics of the nervous system, Speed (in 1924) speculates on the origin and significance of edge-detection [p. 40]:

Sight, as the accurate perception of visual things, is a faculty that has only gradually been developed by humanity in its upward march, and few people realize how little they really see of the marvelous things happening on the retina of their eyes. Sight as a faculty is not so essential to our survival as some of our other senses, such as touch. We live more by touch than sight, and the average person uses his eyes more for the purpose of giving him information about the solidity and general felt shape of things, than for the purpose of observing the color sensations on the retina. We cannot move a yard in front of us without first knowing if there is anything solid to stand upon or something hard in front of us that we might knock ourselves against. And these are all touch ideas. But by associating touch with sight in the very early years of our bodily existence, we learn from much knocking of ourselves, and many falls, to associate sight with touch in so intimate a way that eventually the habit of seeing the touch sense in things becomes habitual; and instead of the color masses on our retina, we see an appearance of a solid world in front of us. much more charming English once was, and only recently too! This concept, that sight is in its utilitarian aspect fundamentally nothing more than an aid to a touch-model of the world, is a very interesting concept. And it seems likely to me to be true, to a very large extent. Speed then uses this concept to illuminate the utilitarian origin of line in art [pp. 42-3]: is only very slowly that humanity has perceived the facts of visual appearance, only gradually that we are opening our eyes, only very slowly that we have developed the faculty of sight. Each newly added fact being, as it were, a new instrument of expression added to the orchestra at the disposal of the artist. After the simple outline filled in with a little local color, we get a little shading to indicate form. And this simple formula was refined to a very high degree in the art which we call primitive, right up to the time of Botticelli...

[Then he lists some developments through 1700 A.D.]

...the whole of this growth of visual knowledge started from the outlined form, which was the result not so much of any attempt to represent what was seen as to satisfy the idea of solid things outside himself man had formed from his sense of touch. The art of the Egyptians, which is the foundation of our Western art, is obsessed by this.

To use Speed's terminology, the line is defined as serving the purpose of defining "a solid object as revealed by the sense of touch with a boundary in space." This is really fascinating! Speed contends that the representational line is not, conceptually speaking, a visual object at all! It is a visual signifier for a tactile phenomenon.

Well, that's also pretty obvious. Most visible things are touchable. But when Speed re-orders the priorities of the system of perceptions, placing touch prior to and superior to sight, he opens an avenue of evaluation of sight that is very fruitful.

To deal with simple things first, his analysis corresponds strongly with Livingstone's experimental results, which indicate that the high-resolution monochromatic edge-detection mechanism of the nervous system is very old and very much related to figuring out what's around us in space. Appreciation of the beauty of butterflies evolves later.

To get to the meat of it, Speed's analysis gives us an insight into the tremendous visceral quality that a beautiful line evokes, even though line is seen, and sight is the most outward and un-visceral of the senses. Let's look again at this Schiele picture we were studying a few days ago:

We were talking previously about the qualities of line in Schiele's work. Let's think about line again in the context of touch. When I was in high school, I had an art teacher who referred one time to "all those grotty hairs" in Schiele's nudes. What he was responding to was the tactile sense implicit in line. The hairs made his lip curl in revulsion - a visceral response - because he was imagining touching them. Take another look at that armpit hair. You can feel it. You can feel the knobs of bone in the elbow and spine. Schiele's line is expressive not only because it has a riveting and unique shape, but also because it induces a strong sense of touch. It strongly defines the quality of "a solid object as revealed by the sense of touch with a boundary in space."

Now let's get back to a Picasso portrait we also discussed before:

I'll never get tired of looking at her.

Anyhow, part of the sensuality of this portrait is that Picasso has developed a system of line that gives you a strong tactile sense of the hair. Unlike Schiele's armpits, you want to touch this hair - you want to run your fingers through it, because the line makes apparent that it is soft and voluminous. The sense of soft volume extends to the face, where the smooth curves of the cheeks reinforce the impression. Almost no shading - but a gut-level impression of volume and consistency.

I'm not particularly going anywhere with this thought, except that I wanted to add the concept of the tactility of line, as a representation of edge, to your mental catalogue as we continue to discuss edges and edge detection. I think it's important, in terms of comprehending the cognitive stakes of the inquiry, and how these cognitive stakes influence the aesthetics that we are constructing or reflecting as artists.

But I would like to add that the most sensual paintings are often the ones with the strongest implied tactility. Or, abandoning the question of touching the thing, the strongest depiction of volume, consistency, and texture of the thing-in-itself. Abandoning our topic of edges for a moment, I'd like to discuss a painting which I think of as one of the sexiest paintings I've ever run into. It was at a retrospective at the Tel Aviv Art Museum of contemporary Israeli artist Elie Shamir. It's called Miri with a Jug:

There are all sorts of reasons I think of this as a sexy painting, but we'll keep close to the topic at hand for a minute, which is the sense of a thing as a tactile thing, as having substance. So let's discuss the way that substance contributes to this painting being sexy. In this respect, there are two staggering passages, which you can appreciate better in this helpful closeup:

The first is in her right hand (our left). In that series of almost chaotic brushstrokes (the result of a painting technique the show made clear he has been refining for years), Shamir evokes blocky, strong fingers. You can tell how these fingers feel - they are mighty fingers, substantial fingers. They have a grace defined by strength. And the strength is perceived, not at the visual level, but at the tactile level.

Now you might be thinking the second passage I want to bring to your attention is her right breast (our left). Nope. It's nice, but any fool can paint a breast getting squished. It's good, but it's not unique.

No, the second passage I find remarkable is her left breast (our right). Particularly the line of slightly lighter brown extending up from the nipple to the shoulder. That line is where the flesh folds forward. Why does it fold forward? Because the mass of fat in the body of the breast is dragging down on an insufficiently robust internal system of suspensory ligaments. Or, to put it less fancily, it sags. Because the tissue cannot support it, it folds the skin, which must support it as well. This is a tremendously subtle and specific observation of the substance and consistency of the body. It is unromantic, and real, and, to me, overpowering.

So of all the reasons that I think of this painting as dazzlingly sexy, tactility is an important one. This is not some imaginary Female Nude: this is a real woman, with sturdy fingers and heavy breasts, and the tactility of her herselfness will knock you down if you let it.

Hullu paljon työtä tekee, viisas pääsee vähemmällä

Well, I get two posts for the price of one! Here's the English version of yesterday's post, but I promise I'll write something new later on today. Well, I'll try to, anyway.

Greetings Oulu!

Through the magic of Google Analytics, I can see that we have a visitor or two from Oulu, in Finland. And through the magic of Google Translator, I can write to you in Finnish - but I apologize if the Finnish is terrible, or even incomprehensible.

I wanted to write something specifically for you, and this reminded me of my admiration for Akseli Gallen-Kallela:

I discovered the work of Gallen-Kallela not long ago, at a time when I was feeling constricted by the set of assumptions I had made about my own techniques. He helped remind me that there is a tremendous range of possibility in painting, and that painting is as much playful as anything else. In the context of a sense of narrative national and mythological composition common to Russia, Finland, and several Balkan states, Gallen-Kallela introduced a sense of delight and magic through his use of rich, even reckless, color. I loved his color, his lines, and his commitment to doing what he was doing, without apologies. At a critical time, he loosened up my sense of what I could do as well. As you can see, my work has reflected his ideas a little bit since then:

...and if you don't happen to like Gallen-Kallela yourself, I apologize for bringing your attention back to him. I wanted to acknowledge my gratitude for your interest all the way from Oulu, and I hope you are enjoying this blog.

One last note - my model Vadim is from an ethnic group that straddles the border between Finland and Russia. He was born on the Russian side, but much of his family was raised in Finland. He is a delightful individual to work with - very funny, with a dark outlook on human nature.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


That last post? I noticed that we were getting a bunch of hits from Oulu, Finland. I thought, "How can I welcome our new Finnish friends?" So I translated a post about Finnish painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela into Finnish using Google's dubious translator. I'll post the English version tomorrow...

Tervehdyksiä Oulu!

Kautta taika Google Analytics, huomaan, että meillä on vieras tai kaksi Oulussa, Suomessa. Ja kautta taika Google Translator, voin kirjoittaa teille Suomi - mutta pyydän anteeksi, jos Suomi on kauhea, tai edes ymmärtää.

Halusin kirjoittaa jotain erityisesti teille, ja se muistutti minua ihailuni Akseli Gallen-Kallela:

Olen löytänyt työtä Gallen-Kallela ei kauan sitten, jolloin minulla oli tunne ahdas, että joukko oletuksia olin tehnyt siitä oman tekniikoita. Hän auttoi minua muistuttaa, että on olemassa valtava joukko mahdollisuutta maalaus, ja että maalaus on yhtä leikkisä kuin mitään muuta. Yhteydessä tunnetta kerronnan kansallisten ja mytologisia kokoonpano yhteisen Venäjän, Suomen, ja useat Balkanin maat, Gallen-Kallela käyttöön tunne iloa ja magian avulla hän käyttää runsaasti, jopa piittaamaton, väri. Rakastin hänen väri, hänen linjat, ja hän on sitoutunut tekemään, mitä hän oli tekemässä, ei anteeksi. Kriittisellä hetkellä, hän irrottaa jopa minun mielessä, mitä voisin tehdä samoin. Kuten huomaatte, työni on otettu ajatuksiaan hieman jälkeen:

... ja jos ei tapahdu, kuten Gallen-Kallela itse, pyydän anteeksi tuo teidän huomion takaisin hänelle. Halusin ilmoittaa kiitokseni etu aina Oulusta, ja toivon, että nautitte tästä blogista.

Viimeinen huomata - Oma malli Vadim on peräisin etninen ryhmä, että kummallakin puolella rajaa Suomen ja Venäjän välillä. Hän oli syntynyt Venäjän puolella, mutta paljon hänen perheensä on esitetty Suomessa. Hän on ihana henkilön kanssa - erittäin hauska, ja tumma näkymät ihmisluontoon.

Monday, February 1, 2010


If you'll pardon a digression from the main topic, of edges, I have been thinking about this issue of Degas trying futilely to unify Line and Color. This struck me as a branch of pataphysics. Pataphysics is a fairly annoying concept invented by Alfred Jarry, of Ubu Roi fame:
He defines it as "the science of imaginary solutions." He also writes some complicated stuff, mocking over-analytic methodology. I actually don't know much about pataphysics, or Alfred Jarry, or Ubu Roi. But the idea of a science of imaginary solutions stuck with me.

However, it was in a slightly garbled form: what I remembered it as was "the science of solving imaginary problems." And for the purpose of this little note, let's just pretend that's what pataphysics is.

So Degas is a pataphysician. He's trying to solve an imaginary problem: the alleged fragmentation of Line and Color from some original, unknown unity is his problem, and re-unifying them is the solution he's seeking. As we found in the last post, this problem simply does not exist, and therefore does not admit of a solution.

In an earlier post, we also looked at the pataphysical problem of eliminating the perceptual distinction between figure and ground. The Impressionists went to great lengths to present a unified visual field in which the figure and ground were part of a continuous optical experience. As neuroscience has advanced, it has become clear that the figure/ground dichotomy is not a matter of socialization or culture. It's a matter of basic visual processing. And even without the revelations of neuroscience, it should have been clear to the Impressionists that depth perception makes the figure/ground distinction inevitably clear, because we can see the relative distances of perceived objects. But they carried on with their pataphysical work anyway...

Let's look at another example of pataphysical art-making. This is a painting by Euan Uglow (1932-2000), a Cornish figurative painter whose book I would own if it weren't so expensive:

If you click on the picture and look at it closely, you'll see that it's covered in weird little marks. What are those? Let's let Wickipedia do the explaining:

With a meticulous method of painting directly from life, Uglow frequently took months or years to complete a painting. Planes are articulated very precisely, edges are sharply defined, and colours are differentiated with great subtlety. His type of realism has its basis in geometry, starting with the proportion of the canvas. Uglow preferred that the canvas be a square, a golden rectangle, or a rectangle of exact root value, as is the case with the Root Five Nude (1976).[1] He then carried out careful measurements at every stage of painting, a method Coldstream had imparted to him and which is identified with the painters of the Euston Road School. Standing before the subject to be painted, Uglow registered measurements by means of a metal instrument of his own design (derived from a modified music stand); with one eye closed and with the arm of the instrument against his cheek, keeping the calibrations at a constant distance from the eye, the artist could take the measure of an object or interval to compare against other objects or intervals he saw before him. Such empirical measurements enable an artist to paint what the eye sees without the use of conventional perspective. The surfaces of Uglow's paintings carry many small horizontal and vertical markings, where he recorded these coordinates so that they could be verified against reality.

...oooookay, Euan. Why don't we take a look at another one?

Again with the finicky measurements. Does anybody really give a hoot whether or not his work corresponds with phi? I don't. I'm gonna guess you don't. There is simply no problem here to be solved. It reminds me of the most devastating review of David Cronenberg's Crash I read: "The movie explores the link between eroticism and car crashes. Unfortunately, there is no link between eroticism and car crashes." The problem of applying phi arbitrarily precisely to arbitrarily small subdivisions of the human body is an imaginary problem. To try to solve it simply invites obsessive-compulsive behavior. It cannot be solved because it doesn't exist.

Oh, and you remember the part about "no perspective, but rather what the eye sees"? The eye is equivalent to about a 50 mm lens for 35 mm film. How is that more "true" than, say, the perspectival distortions associated with a 25 mm or 100 mm lens? Or with one-point perspective?

And yet, I absolutely love Uglow's paintings. There is a sense of simplicity and light and mass to them that seems to me completely unique and charming and counter-intuitive, because they look, in so many ways, like paint-by-numbers pictures from a hobby kit. They have large patches of uniform color! But they work. So you can't say he got nothing for all his pataphysical trouble.

Now we have - Degas, unifying Color and Line, the Impressionists, unifying Figure and Ground, and Euan Uglow, unifying Phi and Figure. All three entities are working on pataphysics. And yet, by working on insoluble non-existent problems, they drive themselves to make magnificent works!

Art-making was not always pataphysical:

There we have Albrecht Durer demonstrating the laborious application of perspective to the great subject of art (naked ladies). The innovation of the laws of perspective was not an issue of pataphysics, but of physics. And it took us from here:

To here:
Many will argue that a loss of primal emotionality was involved in this shift. I am not one of those who will argue that. I will argue that for any "word" art lost in this advance, it gained a thousand, and that the depth of religious feeling in the Da Vinci outmatches that of the icon because it is faith expressed in the context of a sense of reason, of reality, which outmatches our own. Can an ape convince you of faith better than a superman? You must answer this for yourself - but whatever your answer, it is inarguable that the problem of perspective was a physics problem, not a pataphysics problem, and it was amenable to solution, and solving it expanded the range of possibilities of art. Da Vinci can paint an icon, if he pleases, but an icon painter cannot paint a Da Vinci.

I could raise other physics problems - value, shadow, color - but you get the point. Many of these problems have been solved satisfactorily, leaving the modern period to grapple with imaginary problems if it wishes to grapple with problems at all.

So the questions, which are at least intriguing, if not troubling, are:

1. Does it matter that you are devoting your life to pataphysics if, on the way, you produce remarkable art?

I would answer that it does not. If the process of problem-solving, and not the solution itself, is the font of rewards, so be it. We must all follow the task that is before us.

2. Is there any way to distinguish between a physical and a pataphysical problem?

I would maintain that you'd have to go case by case. In many cases, the specific answer is "yes." But in the general sense, the answer is "no." There is no abstract and universal algorithm for separating real and imaginary problems.

3. Given this issue, how many problems that we are working on now are, in fact, pataphysical?

A man likes to know if he's wasting his time. Consider the issues I address in my work: psychology, the complexity of the three-dimensional surface, self-possession of the nude figure, the "zero space," or metaphysical space, of isolation of the Figure, in an elementary state, from both the figure and the world as commonly understood. I happen to think these are worthwhile pursuits. But they may be as surely pataphysical as Degas's science-fictionistic linecolor and Uglow's ludicrous obsession with 1.61803.

The upshot, then, is that we cannot know. We can be fairly sure we're not working on discovering one point perspective, but we can't know with any certainty if what we are doing is entirely pointless or merely mostly pointless.

We keep at it because the work along the way can be magnificent. And more crucially, we keep at it because we have no capacity to do otherwise. Art is not freedom, it is slavery. But to be enslaved to such a master is glorious, glorious...