The Cake That Survives Its Eating
Our latest exhibition features a provocative collection of paintings by five artists who are regarded as "perceptual painters", or a group of painters who share a common core of sensibilities. Exhibition curator and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts professor Scott Noel offers us insight as to what it is the perceptual painter strives to capture and emulate in their work in the following essay:
Pierced by beauty, a person, a place or a work of art, i.e. the recipient of the wound, can become possessive. If the feeling of beauty could be maintained and revisited, wouldn’t life be better? Making art is often a hopeless compulsion to forge a connection with the beauty of the world that will resist forgetfulness and change. The recognition of beauty is an expression of love, and we are nourished by the energies so awakened. How does the lover escape the drive for ownership and possession? In Oscar Wilde’s formulation, we kill the things we love.
Socrates, in Plato’s telling, managed the transformation of eroticism into ethical poetry. Fascinating to the young men who surround him and candid about his attraction to them, Socrates declines their seductions (not to have acted on his erotic drives). He concedes to the physiognomist, he is a cave of vices, but has mastered them all.
If perfect love must overcome possessiveness does the love suffusing an artist’s work tell us anything about the transformation of longing and desire, the dark matter that inhabits the love of beauty, into something more durable, “a cake that will survive its eating”? This passage on love of the order of the world by Simone Weil is illuminating:
“Beauty is the only finality here below. As Kant said very aptly, it is a finality which involves no objective. A beautiful thing involves no good except itself, in its totality, as it appears to us. We are drawn towards it without knowing what to ask of it. It offers its own existence. We do not desire anything else, we possess it, and yet we still desire something. We do not in the least know what it is. We want to get behind beauty but it is only a surface. It is like a mirror that sends us back our own desire for goodness. It is a sphinx, an enigma, a mystery which is painfully tantalizing. We should like to feed upon it but it is merely something to look at; it appears only from a certain distance. The great trouble in human life is that looking and eating are two different operations. Only beyond the sky in the country inhabited by God, are they one and the same operation. Children feel this trouble already, when they look at a cake for a long time almost regretting it should have to be eaten and yet are unable to help eating it.“ Forms of the Implicit Love of God, pg. 105.
Weil’s motifs of mirrors and surfaces that reflect our desires are strangely folded into an insistence on the self-confirmed totality of an experience of beauty. Maybe making a painting or engaging with a work of art rehearses a journey toward a kind of love that keeps changing. The totality of a person, a thing, a work of art or the whole world is a profound challenge to our attentiveness and in the mirroring of beauty we first find ourselves and our tiny desires, but if we’re lucky, we are slowly led to an order much larger than these longings.
The Cake That Survives Its Eating features the work of Michael Ananian, Philip Geiger, Mel Leipzig, Scott Noel and Patrice Poor and is on view now through April 28th at Stanek Gallery.