Making Sense of Kant’s Senseless Sublime

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1051px-Giovanni_Battista_Tiepolo_-_Rinaldo_Enchanted_by_Armida_-_Google_Art_Project.jpgGiovanni Battista Tiepolo, Rinaldo Enchanted by Armida, 1742 until 1745. Was this the kind of work Kant associated with charms and sensual delights of beauty?

Making Sense of Kant’s Senseless Sublime

In the last decade of the 18th century Beethoven composed his 1st and 2nd piano concertos, Goya etched the series Los Caprichos, Jacques-Louis David painted The Death of Marat, and Mozart composed the Requiem in D Minor and the great Jupiter Symphony. These works coincided with the French Revolution, and together they guided European culture away from the extravagant art of Rococo exemplified by the sweetly-colored paintings of Boucher and Tiepolo, with their floating florid nymphs, cupids, silks, and princesses.

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Jacques-Louis David, Death of Marat, 1793. The period of the French Revolution marked a new period of art with more gravitas.

This was a paradigm shift from the superficial to gut wrenching passion, as if Western art was going back to its roots in the dramas of Aeschylus and Euripides; answering the big questions of what is the good and what is important while at the same time elevating the creative process by innovation and superlative skill. This wasn’t for the faint of heart. The artists would have to face inner turmoil and outer rejection as they attempted to get patrons to sponsor wildly dramatic depictions of death, war, and executions, which didn’t lend themselves to the decorative palace dining room.  Risking their livelihoods the artists bore down in this new direction. With this revolutionary spirit we can see the need for a new aesthetic to champion and reflect an Age of Enlightenment.

The Sublime the Absolutely Great
The year 1790, when Beethoven was 20, also marked the publication of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment. It famously compares and contrasts the aesthetic values of Beauty with that of the Sublime. The treatise identifies Beauty representing the lighter more sensual pleasing side and the Sublime addressing what is the “absolutely great beyond all comparison.” Kant wanted to free the Sublime from the constraints of art and launch it into the world of the mind unfettered by perception, form, or realization. …Read more at the Atlas Society website.

Ascension Day Reviewed by Ted Keer

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Newberry, "Ascension Day", oil on linen, 86 x 70 inches, private collection.

Newberry, “Ascension Day”, oil on linen, 86 x 70 inches, private collection.

Note: Ted Keer pass away last month, he had a wonderful curious mind, and it was an honor that he wrote something about a few of my works including the review below:

Michael Newberry’s “Ascension Day” is one of my favorite of his non-traditional paintings. I believe that the essence of my enjoyment is the fully worked out form which simultaneously presents both symmetry and asymmetry, beauty and tension, action and self-centeredness.

When I visited his studio, Michael and I discussed his axiomatic concepts of figurative painting which he designates as form, space and light. I don’t wish to comment at length on his theory, but those who wish to know what he has to say should visit his website and read his statements. I did not discuss this specific painting with Michael, and have intentionally not sought his remarks on it, so that I might comment without bias.

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Just Published: A Rejuvenating Visit with Sculptor Tanya Ragir

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Tanya Ragir, Hard Wisdom 3, 2017, Ceramic clay, found sycamore wood, concrete, india ink, underglaze, birch leaves, raw pigments, 26.5 x 14 x 11.5 inches, photo by Michael Newberry

 

Over the last two years I have developed a friendship with sculptor Tanya Ragir, a well-known artist in Southern California. Recently, I visited her in her art compound. She is a contemporary romanticist and she honors human nature through her drawings, reliefs, and free-standing figures. A feeling I get from many of her works is a delicious ache of how tender and beautiful our humanity is. Her high-ceilinged, rectangular studio is separate from her home and neatly (for an artist) loaded with tools, molds, studies, and ongoing works. Her current series is fragmented female figures, with pieces of real wood branches piercing or growing out of the figures’ fissures. We talked until early morning and at the high point, in a rich mezzo voice, she read to me a quote by Rumi, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” Follow this link to the full article at Cultural Weekly: Read more …

Synergy

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Newberry Synergy oil paintingSynergy
oil on linen, 82 x 66 inches, studio inventory.

Laying down in a closed, dark, tiled space, too young to understand, too inexperienced to sort through feelings, and in too much pain to be aware of the world around him, the ten year old had no choice but to examine everything–or face oblivion. Deep inside him surfaced a feeling of goodness. That feeling would ultimately anchor him to life and earth.

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Chaos, The Bringer of Equilibrium

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Counterpose: Chaos, the Bringer of EquilibriumCounterpose: Chaos, the Bringer of Equilibrium, oil on linen, 36 x 42 inches, studio inventory

 

Chaos was depressed. No matter how hard she tried she couldn’t manage to cope with all of the contradictory forces within her: darkness, burning lights, forms, demons, angels, and bright colors. No single element was the answer to the meaning of existence. It was as if a hundred opinionated voices were speaking all at once, forcefully demanding their spot at the top of the heap. There was nothing tangible to fight, and there was no place to flee. She said: “What an unbearable life.”

 

There was one tiny, microscopic Sublime atom in the chaotic flux that wasn’t fighting, yelling, or competing. It softly mused: “This is all so silly because there is beauty in everything and everything has its nature. I know there is sense to all of this, we only need to discover the key.”

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The Collector

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58A1D7B0-E9CB-4495-9A41-B41318FB52D4“The Collector”, oil on canvas, 60 x 50 inches, private collection

“Life is made up of compromises,” said his teacher. “You will learn that the world doesn’t work that way,” said his other teacher. “Yes, I know I said ‘always be aggressive when you are ahead,’ but make this an exception and be safe,” said his desperate coach. Only once did he discount his inner voice and follow advice that didn’t compute; it ended in a colossal failure. The problem wasn’t so much that their advice was bad, but it didn’t resonate with him.

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The Sublime

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The experience of the sublime is to be looked for in art. Art integrates senses, emotions, and thought. The sublime in art elevates our sensory experience, heightens and taps our emotional potential, and furthers our knowledge. The sublime in art can gives us a moral to the story, a stance towards living. At its best, the sublime in art inspires awe in our human potential and gives us a path to evolve as a whole being and as a species.

Michael Newberry

Some Kant Aesthetic Quotes

Anish Kapoor Marsyas 2002 © Tate Photography

Anish Kapoor Marsyas 2002 © Tate Photography

 

The Critique of Judgement by Immanuel Kant, translated by James Creed Meredith

 

Every affection of the STRENUOUS TYPE (such, that is, as excites the

consciousness of our power of overcoming every resistance [animus

strenuus]) is aesthetically sublime, e.g., anger, even desperation

(the rage of forlorn hope but not faint-hearted despair). [Emphasis in the original]

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Man from Manhattan

manmanhattanE.jpgMan from Manhattan (Self-Portrait), oil on linen, 66 x 44 inches, private collection

 

Grandparents and Rothko

Before World War II, my maternal grandfather, George, moved from Switzerland (or Germany, accounts are a little fuzzy) to live in Argentina, then Canada, where he seduced 18-year-old Edna, who would later become my grandmother. . Then they drove south to Los Angeles and got married.  He wore hats and suits, she did too, wide brimmed hats and silk stockings. He loved sports and opera and she loved the Renaissance and Romantic painters. Edna found a particular Time magazine cover story hilariously funny. On the cover was a Rothko painting, and she roared with laughter at her joke: “This is like the house painter painting large square patches and saying: “Hey lady, which color do you want?” She never had any doubts about absurdities.

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Puccini

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Puccini
oil on linen, 60 x 70 inches, private collection.

 

As a pre-teen, I often felt an unbearable delight in things: There was a local sub shop run by a Sicilian man named Tony. Tony used imported Italian ingredients to make his submarine sandwiches, and the combination of rich flavors created an explosion in my mouth and spirit. It was the same with da Vinci drawings. Da Vinci drawings swept me through currents of light and air giving me a delicious feeling for his beautiful people. I felt like I was born Italian in a past life, but was cursed to be brought up in the artificially bright culture of mid-20th century America, with its Doris Day look-alikes, CIA-sponsored Rothko paintings, Wishbone dressing, and psychologically immature, posturing, drunken men. Though my normal character loves wondrous things, I also felt sadness and shyness. Shyness about the things that rocked my world, and sadness for seeing so much superficiality in my town.

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