views from my sofa (*)

Forced immobility engenders a peculiar mix of humility and calm. Humility because of the unaccustomed dependency on others. A measure of calm because of the temporary release from the imperatives of activity.

The risk of me turning into a day-TV-watching couch potato is luckily averted by the absence of a TV. It’s just at night that I watch DVD’s on an old monitor - a whole set of 70’s French crime-films which my sister gave me to pass time (blame her teenage crush on the handsome Alain Delon).
I almost crow with pleasure at the sight of those cute French 70’s cars, the haircuts, the trench-coats! But I cringe at the degradingly narrow range of female characters with minimal text: one naked woman in bed (luscious but mute), one adulterous wife being hit with the belt by her husband, one waitress in a bunny-costume, a dozen of half-naked female dancers in a cabaret.

Not only my leg, but my mind too is only slowly gearing up again. So I pick up a book composed of mere fragments – a draft by the late André Chastel for an introduction to his unfinished final project, “l’art français”.
It’s a collection of reflections and interrogations, soothingly melancholy & pensive. And remarkably (for a French art historian that is) humble about the position of French art, in particular French painting.

“One should definitely avoid to reduce the history of French art to painting. [that would be ] only an echo of the resounding dominance of French painting in the 19th century. [...](1)

"Apart from Poussin and Claude, France plays only a secondary role in [17th century] painting in comparison with the extraordinary European concert: Rubens, Rembrandt, Velasquez” (2)

Perhaps the uniquely French artistic genius is located rather in “monuments” (the great cathedrals, the romanesque churches, the castles) and in the decorative arts? (hm, apologies to Poussin, Claude, Watteau, Chardin,all the impressionists & j'en passe).

But lying there on my sofa, I am moved most by his melancholy musings about history and art:

Wherever there are construction and ornament, there is something else to behold than the oppression and misery of which each age seems to be made up. [...]

From the point of view of the fabricating activity, history is no longer entirely a nightmare and the locus of all conflicts. [...]

Art, for us, redeems the miserable human condition. One should not be fooled by the historical chronicles, always written to praise the great.[...]
But by adding to each period the mass of objects and relics which belong to it, one can restore some measure of dignity to it. “

Notes en Français
(1) Il faut surtout ne pas ramener l’histoire de l’art français à celle de la peinture. [ce serait] seulement l’écho de l’éclatante domination de la peinture française au XIXième
(2) Poussin et Claude à part, la France joue un peu les seconds rôles en peinture quand on regarde l’extraordinaire concert européen: Rubens, Rembrandt, Velasquez
(3) Là où il y a construction et ornament, il y a autre chose à observer que l’oppression et le malheur dont il est bien vrai que chaque époque semble faite.
Vue sous l’angle de l’activité fabricatrice, l’histoire n’est plus tout à fait le cauchemar et le lieu de tous les conflits [...]. L’art est pour nous la rédemption de la malheureuse condition humaine. Il ne faut pas être dupe de la chronique, toujours faite pour l’éloge des grands. [...] Mais en ajoutant à chaque temps la masse d’objets et de vestiges qui lui appartient, on lui découvre une dignité.

(*) the photos are literally views from my sofa! (well for the 1st one I stood on crutches)


* said...

good to see you're looked after nicely with crime movies (more private investigator education :) and fine books. so it should be. those last quotes are great. i might after all be persuaded to read a book of art history too.
hope the leg is healing well & reading matter and movies continue to be of this inspiring nature...

Anonymous said...

Kerstlichtjes! En een fles Spa rood, het elixir van de Belg. Over oude Franse kerken heeft Proust zo mooi geschreven.
Misschien schetst ook geschiedschrijving, net als literatuur in het algemeen, een te egaal somber beeld van het menselijk leven?

Swann Ffflaneur said...

thanks for your good wishes, A. in fact, many art history books are mere occasions for pensive reflections on the human lot and the many ways of representing it.

Swann Ffflaneur said...

inderdaad, Leen - diezelfde Proust schreef ook ergens "on porte un jugement pessimiste sur la vie, mais on a oublié de faire entrer en ligne de compte l'art et la beauté" (vrij citaat uit het hoofd)

ik deel je enthousiasme voor Spa rood, je kan zelfs er zelfs bruisende champagne mee maken (1/4 rosé+3/4 Spa rood+1kriek) als eindejaars-alcohol uit den boze is

Anonymous said...

Uit een snobistisch kookboek: "Beter goed bronwater dan slechte champagne"! De tip met de kriek ga ik wel onthouden :-)

Swann Ffflaneur said...

:-) ja, ja - de distinctie van de eenvoud!