Thursday, August 16, 2012
Edouard Vuillard or, How a Woman Wants to See and Be Seen by Dorothy Koppelman
Aesthetic Realism, in keeping with its name, sees all reality, including the reality that is oneself, as an aesthetic oneness of opposites...
A woman wants to be seen in relation to all things, all the time. When, in an Aesthetic Realism class, Eli Siegel showed me the way opposites--beginning with the hardness and softness of the chair I sat in—were all around me, I said three words to myself I had never thought of before: “I am related, I am related, I am related! My self took on a new dimension.
In the Fifteen Questions, Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites?, those beginning opposites of reality are asked about by Eli Siegel—Sameness and Difference
I love teaching with my colleagues in Aesthetic Realism consultations what we
have learned about the only antidote to that boredom, irritation and loneliness
which arise from the idea that we have to separate what goes on inside our homes
from all that goes on in the outside world. The only opponent to that kind of
contempt is to see the vivid presence of the opposites—beauty itself—in
everything that exists.|
Often, when a woman is cleaning, two things occur—feverish activity and then exhaustion. Is there, however, in this painting, a relation of impediment and ease, which makes for serenity and, as Eli Siegel described, there must be in all art, a sense of stir?—Do we see here the oneness of opposites we want in our lives?
Does the fact that so many objects and shapes beyond the edges of this room suggest that the sweeping woman has a relation to a wider space, a world beyond that cozy room?
I am sure that every woman wants to be asked as Mr. Siegel asked me: “Is a person’s business the whole world, or snug warmth?—Do you want to be in relation to all space or just in a cupboard with a heater?” I see Vuillard’s painting as not only an affirmation of relation but a criticism of the desire in a woman, or any person, to sweep things out of sight. Vuillard, as he showed in his painterly perception the shapes and colors of relation, also criticized visually the notion of separation in one’s life.
II. What Women Want Is the Aesthetic Criticism of Self
The most dramatic, romantic and important thing that can happen in a woman’s life—has happened in mine and continues to happen—is to learn how to see the difference between contempt and its selfish pleasures and the true criticism which is the same as respect, the same as love, the same as art.
Eli Siegel was the first to see and to say that all art has the criticism we need in order to like the way we see the world. In his essay, now published in The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, “Art As Criticism,” he writes:
Vuillard: The Blue Sleeve
Edouard Vuillard’s “The Blue Sleeve” exemplifies that “criticism…” which is the “loving acceptance of the world.” It is a study in contempt, anger, the accompanying limpness and the grand opposition to those feelings which exist in our very selves and in the structure of things.
The scowling woman asserts anger, but the artist asserts a counter-offensive in that very bright blue arm. The girl’s hand, so large, so limp, rests however, on a rising triangle of light which leads quietly back to another figure, almost indistinguishable but serenely there in the background. Because Vuillard was a master at bringing distant depths to the surface, we feel this person is inextricable—like our whole selves—from the sidewise view of the unseeing girl. This woman, so brightly in the center of the painting, is simultaneously held in the girl’s curving arm, while her head and hair merge with the multi-colored, spreading world behind her.
“The world cannot be seen as good until it is criticized,” said Eli Siegel, and that is what Vuillard does here: The dark, almost religious arches of that chair in front support the worship of contempt and anger; the artist changes them in depth to the light, vertical and horizontal divisions of the spreading wall; and light and dark have changed places on the two faces. The angry division of light and dark, with its scowl, has been reversed so that we see an open eye in bright light and a most pleasing vivid, and yet symmetrical relation of light and shadow.
In Aesthetic Realism consultations women learn to see that even when we are asserting anger or scorn for the outside world, there is another, wider aspect of ourselves—no matter how hidden or submerged—which wants to be pleased rightly by the wide world.
In “Art As Criticism,” Eli Siegel writes:
Interior: Mother & Sister of the Artist
“Interior: Mother and Sister of the Artist” of 1893 is perhaps Vuillard’s
most courageous and powerful painting. There is such a perception of evil in
close quarters, and such a stunning aesthetic opposition. This is the desire in
a woman to be unseen—the triumph of contempt in a woman—presented and
masterfully opposed. In the deep perspective of this room, the young lady
retreats, backs into and almost succeeds in merging with the patterned wall.
She is fearful, suspicious and she emerges slyly above the central, implacable
black form of the thickly masked, unseeing woman—her mother.|
Eyes and selves here have “dishonored reality,” as Eli Siegel described. But the artist’s eye criticizes as we must criticize ourselves. The wall, as wall, will not allow retreat and it welcomes otherness in its active surface. The dark mother is center stage; blackness asserted is lightened, less frightening. And she is surrounded by the friendly red warmth of that bureau with its many drawers. The speed of the straight black bar at the base of the wall lessens the distance between these women and joins them just as surely as the light color of their four hands. I learned from Aesthetic Realism that objects are ethical because they put opposites together. The bottle, tall and curved, attached to the white, round plate, the cloth, soft and sharp, all say, as Eli Siegel said to me, “There’s something to be seen around here.”
Aesthetic Realism teaches this: “The seeing of a person or an object should contribute to your seeing the universe as it really is.” I am immensely proud and grateful to be able to study that way of seeing, to have learned more from the paintings of Vuillard and the writing of this paper, and to be a means of having the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel seen truly by all the persons of the world.