The Art of Arbitrage
July 4, 2019
The role of the subject in art took a beating in the 20th Century. Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) threw the first Molotov cocktail of the rebellion. “I want to astonish Paris with an apple,” Cezanne is said to have said, and with that, the subject in art became incidental. Picasso looked up to him like a father, and if Cézanne was the instigator, Picasso was the ring leader of the 20th Century avant-garde, or, rather, avant-anarchistes. While the Modernists merely abused the subject in art, making it a pretext for self-expression, never going so far as to kill it, American abstract expressionists annihilated it, and when art (the art of painting, anyway) had been declared dead and buried, hipsters suddenly felt remorse, like at that point in a play when the tragic misunderstanding is discovered. Successive waves of painters attempted to re-insert the subject in art, and with great publicity. What was lacking was feeling for the subject, yet an arbitrary “appropriation” by the artist, a pretext for self-promotion. Cynics tried putting forth deliberately bad work, which was met with patient critical understanding. It seemed nothing could any longer shock the bourgeoisie. At this point there is a circumstance that is difficult to discuss. It has been said that a painter paints what he can -which leads to the conclusion that what a painter can’t (paint), is never revealed. I can assure the reader, most of the subjects I have attempted were not satisfactory, will never be seen, and only served to define which subjects I can paint, as if by process of elimination. If an artist can paint nothing, nothing will be seen of his efforts in his lifetime. Whatever is seen, therefore, is that which is necessary, not the whim of an idle dilettante.