October 7, 2009

, originally uploaded by Mark Horst.

October 3, 2009

what does a painting know?

The visual image carries a strange intelligence. It can speak to us in ways that both deepen and undermine other ways of knowing.

Sometimes this is not at all the case. One reason we disparage art for being “illustrational” is that it is possible to eviscerate this deep work of the visual and harness it like a painted pony to someone else’s cart. Then the work tells us what we already think we know: no more.

But this strange intelligence has it’s own clever power: the visual can also take an image or a narrative and drag it place it never intended to go. Caravaggio’s prostitute saints and rent boy angels say something that the theologians only dreamed of.

What if representational, narrative painting could find it’s feet again, not as illustration, but, as a means of dragging the reluctant soul into a place ripped open by lightening and smoldering in grief? What if the visual image commanded the narrative like an insane dominatrix so that the old stories hauled some unseen strength out of the darkness?

What of Cain and Abel? What gift does Cain bring to the Divine No? What does he see in his brother’s election except some distorted reflection of his own wound? Who would be the keeper for that? What does Abel’s blood say to this man?

Are the wings of Icarus just another reminder that rising up will lead to no good and that we'd all be better off keeping our feet on the ground? Is that what Pieter Bruegel wants us to know? Maybe Icarus’ flight points to the inevitability of this golden, flighty, puer energy—and the need to rise up in order to escape from the prison of life's every-day-ness? What if these images say that flying becomes it's own prison and falling brings its own freedom. What if we grow our wings on the way down?