Sensory Equations, by Jack Aswad (continued)

The Law of Transparency

The practice of tracing, even as a preparatory method in the teaching of drawing from reality, raises an issue that, contrary to how contingent it may at first appear, is important.  Precisely to the degree that this practice was a style or a pedagogical approach in use of which the above-mentioned teacher was not (and would not be) alone, it goes far towards explaining the socio-cultural value judgments that once made it difficult to recognize the originality of Choucair’s art in its singular beginnings and that still mar with a certain misunderstanding the current unanimous tendency among the local elite to appraise her art.

The notion of transparency is deeply rooted in artists’ aesthetics, and in the oral or written literatures that accompany their artwork (not in just our Arab East but in the world as a whole) by extremely tenacious roots regardless of the level of consciousness that conceals or reveals it.  Thus, the artwork’s matter must be transparent so that it vanishes before the immaculate appearance of the form, and the form, in its turn, must vanish before the reality that it “pictures” or “represents,” so that it places the viewer in an immediate relationship to this reality.  Why does reality itself not vanish before the Ideal?  Or the Ideal to disclose the Word that created ex nihilo?

Such a line of questioning simply points to the all-encompassing character of the notion of transparency.  It is a measuring-stick suited to both the most extreme realist artistic trends and the most extreme abstract ones as long as the spatio-plastic arts — especially painting and sculpture—remain restricted to the Platonic principle of mimesis, regardless of whether “what” is being imitated stems from an objective reality or a subjective one.  Indeed, did not calling abstract pictures “inner landscapes” spread universally in the early days of abstraction, even if only as a justificatory or didactic compromise?

As for the issue of “creation” versus “copying” that transpires here, we must return to it later, for it will prove to be for Choucair the foremost criterion determining the authenticity of abstraction in an art deserving of that name or dissembling it.

If tracing also had the meaning of relating to the closest, for a real artist, the closest lays in the structure, rather than what is structured, in the seeing rather than what is seen.

Tracing paper, be it material or metaphorical, will keep the adult artist, like the young schoolgirl, outside the classroom for nearly half a century.  For what I call the law of transparency is still one of the presumptions, conscious or not, that guides most acts, theoretical or practical, relating to Art, on both the part of the artist and the viewer.  Every attempt to read an artwork still (largely) assumes implicitly that it is transparent.  The perspicacious critic (and all of them are) sees immediately what is behind the artwork.  Likewise, I was told by one of the “transparent artists” (and they, too, are all “transparent”) that the critic faces two options: either he can dwell on the form, bringing to it technical generalities that apply to any artist; or, he can deal with the content, applying to it his own semiotics independent of the artwork.  How can this corruption in the relationship between the viewer, be he a critic or merely an amateur, and the art but have the foulest of consequences for an artist who in practice refuses the law of transparency?

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