Monday, March 20, 2017

Oh, to paint one's way from Winter

Art is the conscious design
of emotions that work on us
unconsciously, an achieve-
ment of naturalness through
the most unnatural of means.

The strange fact is that in-
spiration must be crafted,
that the flight of fancy must
be engineered.

Returning to Watteau again on Sunday, for an unhurried escape into co-herency as well as subtlety of gesture - particularly to research any background one could find at home, on a remembered model he created for a figure of indifference - I found it only too telling that one of Watteau's most ardent advocates on my shelves had chosen to discuss that extraordinary painting under the heading, rather, of unconscious-ness. For, truly, the very motive to examine the sources of indiffer-ence as Watteau proposes them, is to investigate calculations of dis-ciplined inspiration, and sustained craft. Merely to admire the in-congruousness of the result is not enough, I think, where so radiantly the painter is celebrating the method.

To enjoy the endowments of indif-ference is to generate them and protect them. 
Watteau's L'indifférent is not a fashionable idler, a flâneur out of Baudelaire or Edmund White. He is that spiritual accomplishment, a free man. But then how little recognition one might have given to his need to be painted, that is, to be crafted by a conscious, unconflicted vision. Yet the painting goes beyond structural resolution to present freedom, not so much in its expression, but as its expression. And this, we recognize as entirely the case in its every feature, as a mature construction within the concep-tion and conduct of its engineer. The critic left one no escape, only something better.

Antoine Watteau
Palais du Louvre

Jed Perl
Antoine's Alphabet
  Watteau and His World
Alfred A. Knopf, 2008©

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