Monday, June 22, 2009

Pompous and profane ...

... Slaughterhouse.

As the subject of a big retrospective, Bacon's life certainly has a narrative power. And without anything by Giacometti or Picasso to remind us of the poetic power that can be discovered in the anti-naturalistic figure, Bacon's brutalist paintings are going to strike many observers as the only representational alternative available to an artist in our terrible times. The lack of delicacy or sensitivity-- the lack of imagination in the handling of color or line--becomes not the artist's weakness but ours, a reflection of the troubles of the age. Bacon's work is a blunt instrument, and museumgoers who begin to feel threatened or manipulated may well conclude that this is what Bacon intended. They may not be wrong. ... Bacon is another specialist in sensory deprivation. There is a Stockholm Syndrome quality about these exhibitions. They give us so little, and what we are meant to discover is that we could not possibly be satisfied with anything more.
This is an excellent piece, but I must object to this business - itself a cliché - about "our terrible times"? You want terrible times, read Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror. We live in a time when you can walk down the street to CVS and get a bottle of eardrops that, had they been available in 1900, would have saved Oscar Wilde's life. Sure, awful things are happening in the world today (see Iran, North Korea, Burma, Darfur, etc.), but most of us, including Jed Perl, have been spared any encounter with them. And our feeling bad about them is not the same as experiencing them and doesn't do squat about them. A little perspective, please.


  1. Hear hear! This needs saying more often - not least because the fallacious notion of 'our terrible times' permits so much terrible art.

  2. I couldn't agree more. That cliche, a kind of writer's reflex action, jumped out at me as I was reading your post, and I thought about mentioning it before discovering your own comment. I suppose all times are terrible for parts of the human race, but I am grateful that they are less so now than at most other points in human history.