Page 14 - Studio International - July August 1973
P. 14

Nouns, gerunds, and participial adjectives                                          means of moral support and the art market a
                                                                                            viable means of economic support. But no
        Emile de Antonio's Painters painting                                                film-maker, not even with a film about painters
                                                                                            and the art world, can subsist on the patronage
       Mich Tuchmann                                                                        of the art market. Even to be a succès d'estime a
                                                                                            commercial film must be seen by more people
                                                                                            than have sold or purchased all the paintings of
                                                                                            all the painters who appear in Painters
                                                                                              `My friends the painters, Jasper Johns and
                                                                                            Rauschenberg and Frank Stella may make a
                                                                                            million dollars a year, which they do . . . But
                                                                                            you know they reach a small corporate and
                                                                                            social elite. They're talking to three thousand
                                                                                            people. When my film fails and I don't reach
                                                                                            a wide audience I still am reaching one
                                                                                            hundred times, one thousand times that number
                                                                                            of people'.
                                                                                              The meaning of 'painting', the gerund,
                                                                                            subsumes that fact, because 'painting' is a
                                                                                            composite social activity which comprises
                                                                                            creative production by whatever refinement of
                                                                                            technique, distribution, exhibition, reference to
                                                                                            an artistic tradition, ever-changing relations of
                                                                                            the supply of raw materials and the physical
                                                                                            and economic means to work, the establishment
                                                                                            of the parameters of taste and the perception of
                                                                                            beauty, the sale of product (and the creation of
                                                                                            surplus value) and the ideological summation of
                                                                                            these relations which in any generation goes
                                                                                            under the name of criticism. These relations are
                                                                                            common in essence, if not in detail, to painters
                                                                                            in a particular society in a particular time and
                                                                                            serve variously to alienate the artist from his
                                                                                            own work. From these relations which constitute
                                                                                            the practice of painting and the struggle to
                                                                                            overcome alienation arise the painter's
                                                                                            perceptions of his own life, his own complex
       Painters Painting is an intentionally ambiguous   Pollock in action, is not used, though many   practice inside and outside his studio, his whole
       motion picture title. With the words printed   other present participles, 'sitting', 'drinking',   world with its artistic predecessors and
       vertically on the screen and no apostrophe   `reminiscing', `criticizing, 'interviewing',   cohorts, and the abstract cognitive significance
       appearing after 'painters', 'painting' might be   `cropping', 'editing', and 'making history',   he assigns to these perceptions. Whatever form
       any of three parts of speech, a noun, a gerund,   even art history, are.             he may give those meanings in his work,
       or a participial adjective. As a preface to   What does de Antonio mean by 'painters' ?   whatever largely idiosyncratic, psychological
       explaining for me the equally ambiguous title of   His use of 'painters' is the common or garden   matter he adds to the mixture, the complex
       his previous film, Millhouse: A White Comedy,   variety, a person engaged in the practice of   social practice of 'painting', the gerund, is
       Emile de Antonio paraphrased the critic,   painting. But what does de Antonio mean by   latent in the painted surface, its content, its
       William Empson, saying, 'Ambiguity is the act   `painting' ? That is what makes the title   scale, just as, or better, to the very degree that
       of an idiot', and then with mock resentment at   ambiguous and the film a personal (political)   perception is. Paintings per se cannot be
       my having asked him to explain, he added,   recollection of the New York art world, 1940   explained by reduction to 'historically
       `and I shall now proceed to be an idiot'.   to 1970, the years covered by the Henry   interpretable forms' (Sontag) but perceptive
         Still de Antonio prides himself on his titles   Geldzahler show at the Metropolitan Museum   frameworks can.
       and purposefully composes them as mysteries.   in 1970.                                To the artist, the painter, whose livelihood,
       If ambiguity is the act of an idiot, attempting to   `Painting', the noun — there is no trouble   beyond the sense of mere sustenance, depends
       explain a multi-dimensional and           there — an object, painted, unique as a work of   on the conception of art as an authentic,
       sophisticated one like Painters Painting may be   art. As Walter Benjamin explained it, it is   valuable entity in the age of mechanical
       the task of a fool. Yet working through this   valuable in our capitalist society for its   reproduction, this sociological definition of his
       puzzle is the key to understanding this new   authenticity and uniqueness. Of course the   essentially conservative practice is an unwelcome
       documentary film about New York artists,   opposite is the case with the motion picture as   observation. But that is it in black and white,
       because the use of colour in de Antonio's first   Benjamin pointed out. There is no film print   Painters Painting's black and white.
       colour film is tied to that grammatical   more authentic than any other; uniqueness is   Of course, if the dialectic of practice and
       ambiguity as well as being expressive of a   not a salient attribute. Even making paintings   perception is true as a conception of the
       critical manner of comprehension.         so grand in scale as to challenge the notion   genesis of painters' thought, it is equally true
         Colour for the noun 'painting'. Black and   of the painting as possessable within the   for film-makers. Like 'painting', 'film-making'
       white for the gerund, 'painting', and for   bourgeois home, successful painters — and   too, is a gerund which names a veritable
       `painters'. 'Painting', the participial adjective,   Painters Painting deals only with financially   complex of creative and distributive
       except for the Hans Namuth photos of Jackson    successful painters — find the art world a viable    relationships. And, like painting, film-making
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