A review by Jonathan Jones recently posted at The Guardian – The definition of artistic greatness: Unfinished … Works from the Courtauld Gallery – has prompted me to reblog this post from wonderingmind studio. First the post, then some tasters from the review.
Cézanne and the art of nondual nonfinito.
Or – getting emptiness exactly right …
La Montagne Sainte Victoire vue des Lauves, 1901 – 06, Paul Cézanne
As Cézanne aged, his paintings became filled by more and more naked canvas, what he eloquently called nonfinito. No one had ever done this before. The painting was clearly incomplete. How could it be art? But Cézanne was unfazed by his critics. He knew that his paintings were only literally blank. Their incompleteness was really a metaphor for the process of sight. In these unfinished canvases, Cézanne was trying to figure out what the brain would finish for him. As a result, his ambiguities are exceedingly deliberate, his vagueness predicated on precision. If Cézanne wanted us to fill in his empty spaces, then he had to get his emptiness exactly right.
For example, look at Cézanne’s watercolors of Mont Sainte-Victoire. In his final years, Cézanne walked every morning to the crest of Les Lauves, where an expansive view of the Provençal plains opened up before him. He would paint in the shade of a linden tree. From there, Cézanne said, he could see the land’s hidden patterns, the way the river and vineyards were arranged in overlapping planes. In the background was always the mountain; that jagged isosceles of rock that seemed to connect the dry land with the infinite sky….
And yet the mountain does not disappear. It is there, an implacable and adamant presence. The mind easily invents the form that Cézanne’s paint barely insinuates. Although the mountain is almost literally invisible – Cézanne has only implied its presence – its looming gravity anchors the painting. We don’t know where the painting ends and we begin…
– Jonah Lehrer: Proust Was a Neuroscientist
The Awakening Slave, 1520 – 23, Michelangelo
The greatest works of art in the world are unfinished. This is not a provocation. Leonardo da Vinci’s dreamlike, infinitely suggestive sketch of a painting The Adoration of the Magi, Michelangelo’s tortured Prisoners struggling to attain human form from blocks of rough-hewn marble, Cézanne’s fragmentary, unending studies of Montagne Sainte-Victoire – for me these unfinished masterpieces literally are the definition of artistic greatness.
Adoration of the Magi, 1481, Leonardo da Vinci
When artists like Cézanne, Monet and Degas started leaving their paintings in an ambiguous and aleatory state in the late 19th century the bourgeoisie were shocked. Where were the immaculately detailed meadows full of identifiable flowers, the clinically exact nudes and historically accurate costumes they had come to expect?
The Roses, 1925 – 26, Claude Monet
Why is the unfinished such a powerful thing in art? The answer is in our minds. A brightly complete work of art leaves nothing for our brains to do. Unfinished art on the other hand provokes the imagination. It invites the onlooker to collaborate with it. Our relationship with the artist is suddenly much more intimate – Michelangelo’s chisel marks left on his incomplete statues are breathtakingly personal.
Less is more, and it is genius.
– Jonathan Jones
The absence invites the Presence. “It is there, an implacable and adamant presence.” The forms are barely insinuated, implied, yet they “anchor” the work, and the mind easily participates in the act of co-creation.
Where does the painter end and the painting begin? Where does the painting end and the viewer begin? Who can say? This, as Jones observes, is the real genius of great art.