Friday, April 17, 2009

"To anyone recuperating from the benign plague of naïve realism I would recommend the following method of looking at pictures.

"Under no circumstances go in as if you were entering a chapel. Don't be thrilled or chilled, and don't get glued to the canvas. . . . 

"With the stride of a stroll on a boulevard: straight on!

"Cut through the huge heat waves of the space of oil painting.

"Calmly, with no excitement--the way little Tartars bathe their horses in Alushta--lower your eye into what will be for it a new material ambiance--and remember that the eye is a noble, but stubborn, animal.

"Standing before a picture to which the body temperature of your vision has not adjusted itself, for which the crystalline lens has not yet found the one suitable accommodation, is like singing a serenade in a fur coat behind storm windows.

"When this equilibrium has been achieved, and only then, begin the second stage of the restoration of the picture, the washing of it, the removal of its old peel, its external and late barbaric layer, which is the linking of it to sunny, solid reality.

"With its extremely acidic reactions, the eye, an organ possessed of hearing, which intensifies the value of the image, which multiplies its accomplishments by its sensual insults (which it fusses over like a child with a new toy), raises the picture to its own level; for painting is much more a matter of internal secretion than of apperception, that is, of external perceiving. 

"The material of painting is organized in such a way that it stands to lose nothing, and that is its distinction from nature. But the probability of the lottery is inversely proportional ti its feasibility.  

"And only now does the third and last stage of entering the picture begin: when one confronts the intention behind it.

"Now the traveling eye presents its ambassadorial credentials to the consciousness. Then a cold treaty is established between the viewer and the picture, something on the order of a diplomatic secret. 

"I left the embassy of painting and went out into the street.

"So soon after having left the frenchmen I found the sunlight to be a phase of some waning eclipse, and the sun to be wrapped up in foil.

"Near the entrance of the cooperative stood a mother with her son. The boy was tabetic, respectful. Both were in mourning. The woman was sticking a bunch of radishes into her reticule. 

"The end of the street, seemingly crushed by binoculars, swerved off into a squinting lump; and all of this, distant and linden-lined, was stuffed into a string bag."

--Osip Mandelstam,
Journey to Armenia 
(1933; translated by Clarence Brown
in The Noise of Time, 1986)

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