As/Is







3.07.2014


Fit Audience Though Strange: Skipping Steps, Sublimity, and PFS


The manner in which Schopenhauer defines "sublimity"- an aesthetic object which simultaneously seduces and threatens the human will- is as good a starting point as any for attempting to come to grips with the body of artistic work left by the Philly Free School. In the paradigm shift from post-modernity to new modes of self-consciously high art, we skipped several steps- the most obvious step skipped being representations of the merely beautiful or charming, as (again) defined by Schopenhauer. By building sublimity into "The Lost Twins," here shown, "Apparition Poems" and the rest, we assured ourselves a reaction from beleaguered post-modernists, of extreme fear, mistrust, and loathing.

"The Lost Twins," in particular, manifests so many levels of sublimity that it seems impossible that Abby should've painted it, even in Aughts Philadelphia, against an aesthetic back-drop which not only devalued (and devalues) painting, but one strictly focused on what I might call, as a legitimate inversion, the anti-sublime (as a branch of anti-art) - ironic conceptual jokes, cloying politically correct installation art which aims to press all the most facile, cozy PC-consonant buttons; video art, fanciful and Dada-esque in its execution, which, underneath a patina of artistic daring, plays to the self-congratulatory peanut galleries of curators, investors, and art press bound by a play by the post-modern rules mentality.

Make no mistake- Schopenhauer's sublime is menacing- and, by daring to be a menace, and one not to be lightly dismissed on any level, Abs guaranteed herself an indefinite media/gallery/museum quarantine. That is, perhaps, one reason Abs sees her twins as "lost"- they dare to engage painting in all its primal and primordial (sublime) splendor- and, as voyeurs to their voyeurism, we overhear their overhearing what the illustrious past of painting has been, and how stranded in the darkness of ignorance it has become- devalued by charlatans, perpetuated by tepid quacks, shrouded in the chiaroscuro of an uncertain future.

"The Lost Twins," in fact, may be taken as a dazzlingly complex self-portrait, of an artist not menaced into silence by depth, shadow, and thematic complexity. If anything in the 20th century compares, including Picasso, I am not aware of it and have not seen it. Abby's sublimity has a brick wall quality, the implacable quality of a work of resolutely high art, which compromises nothing to a desire to please or sell.

The parallelism between myself and Abby is profound- in terms of pendulum-swinging, from the dross of thoughtlessness and post-modern cliche to the loftiest, most cognitively challenging form of high art, Apparition Poems enacts the same kind of internal drama that "The Lost Twins" does. Apparition Poems has received reviews, but none which evince any critical authority- if the book is to be reviewed by critics with no thorough knowledge of Keats and Shelley, or even Yeats and Eliot, then it is easy to get the feeling of what the losses imposed by post-modernity on literature are. A typical literary critic, from this context, can't put Apparition Poems in any perspective, can't see it clearly or begin to define its parameters in an original way, formally or thematically.

One thinks of Milton's "fit audience though few" paradigm, and us, and is then hit on the other side of it by the fact that we do have some visibility and popularity. It's an awkward situation, man...very awkward indeed. By pole-vaulting over the ridiculous and into the sublime, and not making any concessions to the ridiculous, Philly Free School and Neo-Romanticism has created an extended moment and a socio-aesthetic context so stark and challenging that, for the time being, only the venturesome may approach us in good faith.