On "White Elephant Art v. Termite Art" (Manny Farber, 1962)

Detail of a painting by me

Read the original essay here.

What are the “imprisoning conditions” of a masterpiece?
obeisance — the work’s self-knowledge of it’s physical limitation, knowing a painting cannot expand beyond the canvas


Farber appears to believe the artist must destroy herself through the art, without fanfare, or that the artist nor the art should appear to be aware of themselves

A preference for sketches, unfinished work, the scaffolding itself even?

Must “a unique, personal vision” always be unfinished? Yes. The vision should have the capacity to change, the termite art should be less thought of as the nothingness or vestages the termite swarm leaves behind, than the swarm itself…Laura Walker’s book swarm lure. The art shouldn’t even be the swarm then, but what precedes it. What brings the swarm, what vision is worth ingestion and destruction?

Farber must have hated Pollack. His seeming illogical movements, as they were overdone

Interesting assumption that Warhol’s study was a “minute embrace”…I don’t know how Warhol’s works could even be made-into termite art, or if it ever existed as such except as works-in-progress

No continuity, no harmony, the idea of learning the rules (technique) and then forget them, is it possible to abandon technique or to at least give the impression that technique is abandoned?

No faking. Now this seems hypocritical.

What are the signs of “eager, industrious, unkempt activity”?

Objection must be oblique. Experimentation must be obvious. The artist should have no idea of the finished product before it is declared finished.

How does one turn boundaries into conditions?

Nostalgia must be avoided at all costs, and things that appear “curving” or even comfortable, pleasurable?

Signs of white elephant art

  • action framed with all-over pattern (again, against continuity, the patterns must change or no pattern should exist?)
  • continuity installed in every event, character, situation (obvious continuity or even links, a pathway?)
  • every inch of medium/format treated as potential area for prizeworthy creativity (in praise of “waste”, the wasting of space, book is called Negative Space after all, his darks were in all the right places, photography’s light or absence thereof, honesty in mistake

A Taste of Honey, as I remember it, or have forgotten it, particularly the storyline…girl and mother despise each other, girl runs away, finds love, ends up like Lolita, or poor and self-dumbing, numbing. I do remember the interior scenes, her house. The green color and the vastness of space, lots of empty floorspace, emptiness

ALMOST. “almost acts into a state of grace.” Stopping short, again a sketch, no glazing over, staining or finishing work, as if the artist must abandon the work three-quarters in, this is making me question the revision of some work at all. The swarm must keep moving, never self-reference, never go back, against editing.

Or maybe just editing the most interesting parts. Stress, challenge…TENSION. The work cannot point to the answer, or even indicate the answer? The work should not be at all concerned with an idea of an answer.

Do not indicate any fear, self-awareness, or knowledge of the arts, what came before, even? No, the art must be aware of what came before, but not revisit these ideas just move forward into experimental, actual experience in zero time, now…

Okay, no edits on the most interesting parts. No overworking, especially of clichés, be careful of a close-up, for remaining for too long and considering for too long, indicates Warhol may have had the minute-embrace, but shouldn’t have colored-in all the lines

“a pretentiously handsome image…compromises the harrowing effect of the scene”

  • romantic depictions of anything
  • there isn’t even time for the romantic idea
  • would Bukowski’s work be considered a glamorization in it’s anti-glamorousness, as in it’s trying too hard to be the exact opposite, and he was well-read and widely read, and too detailed?

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