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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Charles Olson on the Job of Architecture—as revealed in a work (and story) by Cy Twombly, painter/sculptor, swimmer and lifeguard

"Sculpture fled. And architecture has now run after. And for good reasons: that the round world (which it was their job to lead us to enjoy—to illuminate) turned to rot. It had been treated cheap, not by these arts but by what makes arts: men.
     "All golden things, including the mean, got debased. Then everything blew up, from the inside, from cause [ie. from individual human beings]...
     "What seems clear is, that two dimensions as surface for plastic attack is once more prime...
     "The allure—the light—had better be in any painted, drawn, cut or carved thing [with reference to] that one [narrative] it has not been our habit to regard as one... Say it is not one. But it is surely the way—the tao—that two dimensions is now being given back the job.
     "Take it flatly, a plane. On it, how can a man throw his shadow, make this the illumination of his experience... (In my business [poetry] it comes out... 'voice'; to say what I got to say, which may be of interest to others because it can stand for what they have got to say, if it says anything; and it can only to the degree that, like a plane, it is no plane at all.) How make that plane, the two dimensions, be all—from a [the] point to any dimension?
     "It was some other reference... to how a lake we know in common afforded [understanding] about what Tao Yuan-Ming's east hedge was... who gave me suddenly, as he talked of contemplation, the sense of what architecture now had to do with."

Associative Images are by
photographer Myoung Ho Lee

"That is, I knew sculpture was buried, was become an art underneath us all, had gone down to be our sign—by a sort of inverted archeology—that each of us had now to come up live, like those stone images scholars are digging up in so many places; that only by ourselves can we find out... the round all men have been rifled of. And I knew this was... traction in dance... like combination of... documentation and... conjecture in the art of narrative. But I didn't know, until that instant, as the two of us were looking at a new large black-and-white canvas of Twombly's, what use architecture had now to be.
     "...I thought that here Twombly had... slipped off the wire any of us in all of the arts walk over...candor is still such a ruthless reality on the other side... and confronted by the will of that reality with which artists can have nothing to do... the will by which most of our fellow men manage to get through. An artist has to cross over.
     "I knew what Twombly was fighting for, even in this canvas... getting in to what he is confronted by—into that rectangle—that honor & elegance are here once more present in the act of paint.

     "...Twombly had tried to solve it outside the place where he almost every time does battle it out...
     "...his penetration of the reality bearing on us is... in the same diggings out of which he is digging himself
     "...his apprehension—his tien— is buried to the hips, to the neck, if you like
     "I underline his paintings to distinguish... that all document is not the equal of a man's life, what he bears inside himself and makes speak directly... no facts, only his own acts make it
     "Suddenly I understood, as the two of us were there inside that too small room in that too modern building jutting out over that lake [eg. at Black Mountain College] which we both had bent our art around, that architecture had no reason any longer at all to confine space, that it was we who were confined, that architecture, like sculpture, had gone elsewhere. And it occurred to me, that a billboard made more sense. That here, too, [we] had been given back [our] oldest job...
     "And so, if Twombly does make canvases boldly behave as two dimensions and yet makes forces present which... have been absent... look for cause
                    "... in yourself...
                    "... you can do it, because you
                     are the only round thing left...

     "And the wood of the tree which grew? how would you carve it otherwise than in like dimensions, and like candor?"

Excerpts from "Cy Twombly" [1952] an essay by Charles Olson in Collected Prose: Charles Olson (University of California Press, 1997) p175-178. As the editor notes (p414), Olson's insights arose not simply from looking critically at Cy Twombly's painting, but from his "questionings, to find out more" about a singular story: about how and why Cy Twomby, one night, came to dive into a lake to rescue his fellow [art] student Robert Rauschenberg "from drowning."