A quick read of Albright’s “One sees what one sees” offered the overview I needed in order to feel a bit more informed about the context of what I’ll be enjoying tonight at “The Steins Collect” exhibit at the SFMOMA.
Really briefly, I want to touch on a few connections/intersections with Stein, writing, Picasso, cubism, and the dynamics of in/visibility.
Stein, Writing, and Latour
Albright writes that “Stein was to be much attracted to cubism’s all-overness, its way of treating every square inch of the canvas as equally significant—“Cézanne conceived the idea that in composition one thing was as important as another thing. Each part is as important as the whole, and that impressed me enormously” (Haas, Gertrude Stein A Primer, p. 15).
What attracted me to this particular insight is the fact that composition – like ecosystems – function like networks, in which various actors contribute to the network’s overall agency. Although the actors aren’t equal (I’m thinking of Latour, here, when he explains how he doesn’t adhere to an “across the board, all actors are equal” mentality) but despite their different agencies, the important part is that they possess agencies; the objects, whether they are letters, words, sentences, drops of paint, portraits, etc. … are constituted of agential parts, actors, which influences the whole network. There is more to this connection, but for now, I believe it to be an interesting point of connection in which to synthesize the ecological thought (nodding to Morton here) with Latour and with Stein, Picasso, and Cezanne.
- Random thought: Cezanne’s quote above reminds me of Derrida’s The Truth in Painting (as a side note, since my undergraduate days at the University of Florida, when I was first introduced to the text, I haven’t come across a colleague/professor, etc. who has heard of this particular text …?)
I also find interesting Albright’s explanation that, “Stein thought that Picasso’s genius lay in his faculty for seeing what was there, the object unencumbered with the normal contexts of things—not the object as we know it ought to be:
Really most of the time one sees only a feature of a person with whom one is, the other features are covered by a hat, by the light, by clothes for sport and everybody is accustomed to complete the whole entirely from their knowledge, but Picasso when he saw an eye, the other one did not exist for him … one sees what one sees, and the rest is a reconstruction from memory and painters have nothing to do with reconstruction (Gertrude Stein on Picasso, p. 22)
In thinking about the dynamics of in/visibility, as it relates with my current work (considering the invisibility of environmental problems like climate change) and the ways in which it implicates Picasso’s art, in that his talent was founded on “seeing what was there” without preconceptions, memories, references, etc., I wonder if re-articulating climate change in entirely new terms, interpreting climate change not as a debate over what is invisible (i.e. the degree to which human and/or natural causes affect climate change) but rather as an emphasis on what is there, such as the certainty (visibility) of climate change in and of itself (i.e. we’re certain that the Earth’s temperature is changing and we can predict the potential for crisis if we do nothing to address it) in terms of what we can do, for instance, like the concept of resiliency.
As this visibility pertains to Picasso’s art, Stein’s insight – that Picasso saw what was “… unencumbered with the normal context of things …” sheds light on what I’ll be seeing tonight; it informs the perspective with which I come to seeing what is there … and the ways in which art, writing, and life are always meshing in interesting, exciting, and provocative ways …
Albright, Daniel. 2009. One sees what one sees. In A New Literary History of America, ed. G. Marcus and W. Sollors, 1903. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.