Thought Catalog

Faces And Things And Such

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When I was younger, the only art I really liked were portraits. I needed to see a face. Something about that face let me reckon the work, make sense of it, be moved by it. I needed the human element, that inflection of distinctly human being, that sense that it could be me, that this was some variation of me, one possibility within the infinite variegation of humanity.

I was particularly fond of this Otto Dix portrait. I tried living in Paris after college (it turns out Paris is not particularly fond of 21 year old Hebrew hippies who, to Parisians, look Arabic — oy vey; I learned to carry my passport with me to avoid beatings from the thug ass cops) and this painting — I’d known it as a poster from a college friend’s apartment — hung in the Pompidou. Having no friends and nothing to do, I’d often go and sit for hours in front of this hilarious, exquisitely grotesque image.

And then one day, it was gone. It wasn’t even replaced by anything. Where there was once a painting was now nothing but wall.

Years later and I’ve come to read that moment as propitious: the movement from face to thing, from humanity to the landscape of life (not landscapes per se). What I would later come to understand is that everything — yes, everything — is a possibility of being. That I can go like a rock, a wall, a street, a mountain, or like that swirl of paint or very, very still video of the Empire State Building. I began to understand that art is not about representing possibilities of human being but of creating affective possibilities.

Suddenly, the world — of art and the world at large — yawned. Everything became an inflection of being and everything a possibility. The face then moved from a privileged space into being part of the landscape, an inflection point amongst infinite inflection points, human and not, organic and not. Humanity — and humanism — was limiting me, to say the least.

I began to see the world as an endlessly shifting landscape of visible and invisible bodies, all moving at their own speeds, in their own styles, ricocheting, merging, blending, drifting, insisting, dissipating, cohering. And the face became one moment, one shape, one style of this landscape (pace Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?) TC mark

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    • Travis Baugh

      did you actually sit for hours in front of a painting for hours or look at it for 3-180seconds a few times

      • paige

        tbh i could stare at any otto dix painting for maybe roughly ten minutes and still be pleased with it. i will let 10 mins = an hour in this scenario.

      • paige

        tbh i could stare at any otto dix painting for maybe roughly ten minutes and still be pleased with it. i will let 10 mins = an hour in this scenario.

    • RAH


    • Catt

      Maybe it’s just because I’m drunk, but you seem like someone I would love to know in real life.

    • Sara David

      like like like

      this reads like a journal entry, i wish i could meet you as a kid.

      dear diary,
      today i inverted reality and being and then i deconstructed the signified but we couldn’t go outside for recess because it was raining :(

    • Bryanbabylon

      I was thinking  ‘Year Zero: Faciality’ almost from the get go on this one!

    • damo

      i feel the same way about photography. landscapes are pretty and all – but an eye-grabbing, enigmatic portrait? unbeatable.

    • Michael Koh

      What I got from this was: Parisian gendarmes are racists

    • anon

      I just thought it was interesting that you carry your passport, showing that you’re Hebrew, in order to AVOID harassment from the cops. How far as a society we’ve come (?)

    • Anonymous

    • Remy Lexington

      This was a good read.  The idea that what allows us to connect emotionally with artwork  is that our first instinct is to personify the subject matter. To identify with it. Whether it is a person, place or thing. One must relate to something in order to have a feeling towards it. To put ones self in the position of the person, or the landscape, or the inanimate object we then can get a sense of how the work affects us. I never really looked at it that way before but I guess you could say that one thing that might make a successful piece of work is how well and how large of an audience can relate to it.

    • amsantos

      You are every amazing, and so is your writing.

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