“Abjects d’Art”

The scene here is how I remember my first life-drawing class with a metaphoric overlay of some of the X-ian creation myth characters. There’s the serpent, bringer of the fruit of the tree of knowledge and brush, bringer of art, all in one object. And in an almost too easy metaphor, easels as trees, pillars of wood that can support art in progress, like trees, in season, hold fruit. Look closer and you’ll see naked Eve, as “life” model, hiding among the easels.

The art class really hosts, in one  body, pre- and post-lapsarian Eves. The before-the-fall eve is just a set of geometric surfaces we students must mechanically copy. and as the expelled, but before ‘they sewed fig leaves together,’ Eve, she is a look-but-don’t-touch, sexy woman. That coupling doesn’t seem to work well especially for a 20-yr old male taking the class.

The easels are empty of canvases, art is not in the scene. But the mise en scene is the art, now that, 40+ years on, I finally get around to drawing it. The model, the two Eves in one, becomes an objet ‘d’art. Or should I say, if I may pun on Kristeva’s image for her neologism, “the skin on warm milk,” an abjet d’art? One Eve is a ‘skin,’ to be observed, and the other ‘warm milk’ to be consumed, the nude and the naked. Oh, the horror!

.  .  .

Infants create their “selves” from the unreflective mess of sensations they begin with. Beginning with the pairing of an image of a woman –OK, a breast– and the sensations of fullness or hunger, they slowly gain the ability to recognize sensory experiences that re-occur in groups, and they thereby create persistent images, i.e. objects. After that they begin to get a sense of ‘out there’ versus ‘in here,’ that, that out-there woman-object is separate from in-here hunger or fullness. They step back again and see themselves and see the ‘in here’– as having an inside and an outside too. An “I” begins to sense a separate “me.”

The young person has now become a subject among objects. But soon complicating that toddler world view is the realization that there are other “I”s out there. They begin have “to see oursels as ithers see us” moments; they become subjects among subjects. Later, much later, as adults, they marry and divorce, get hired then retired, they become objects among subjects, or so it seems. Apart, but among, even against, we are always both a subject being and an object being observed.

The artist, in many ways, stays the infant; he never wholly accepts the separateness of the subject and object that adults do without thinking. The ideas for his art are objects inside his subjectivity and the objet d’art that he eventually creates will be his subjectivity out there for the others to see. He is (sein) out there (da) among the objects but also the inverse, his da is of his sein. If this makes no sense don’t worry, dasein (being-there) is from Heidegger, no one gets him.

Without the sein there is no da. Is the opposite is true as well? If there is no da, is there no sein? Yes, sort of; the artist is defined by his making of art as much as art us defined as what an artist makes, M. Duchamp notwithstanding.

.  .  .

Back to the image of the naked female among the easels; not just before and after Eves, she is model, mate, and muse. First as a real model, she is a surface observed and the art of it is, as the impressionists and realists would have it, an objective manifestation of that observation The romanticists and expressionists have a different take; they see her as representing a fantasy mate, a fallen Eve, as a desirable woman, not mere “skin,” to be observed but “warm milk” to be consumed. She is also the image of a muse; an idealist and neo-classicist conflation of observation and socially conventional, sometimes deified ideals?

Finally On to the artist; being a picture, being watched or creating a picture, watching? The grand renunciation of the infant is also that of the artist; the mirror becomes a canvas, an objet petit “i” (for image.) The infant/artist steps back more and sees more, sees the other “I”s (capitalized this time) but never his own “I.” The i is the a. the canvas both a symbol of the lack of seeing that “I” and the lack of a reciprocating other. Art is a gaze unreturned and the practice of desiring desirability, the fantasy of being consumed by the milk.