After politics, music, psychoanalysis and literature, I wanted to conclude this “Deleuze week” with a short article about his vision of painting (for cinema, see the article about his lecture about the act of creation) through the work of Francis Bacon. Gilles Deleuze, indeed, interpreted the work of the Irish painter in a book entitled The Logic of Sensation published in 1981.
In this book, he describes how the lifetime work of Francis Bacon has been to paint the scream itself rather than the figure that makes the body scream. The body is therefore the continuous medium of work of Bacon. His paintings registers in what Deleuze calls the becoming animal, and each body in them expresses the pain in their meat that they suffer about (see previous article about Bacon and the meat).
This book also insists on the common mistake which is to consider that the painter always start from a white page. On the contrary, Deleuze argues that he starts with a dark page and the painting consists in the withdrawal of everything that is not fundamental to it (see previous article about this same book). He uses the example of Cezanne in order to illustrate how little each great painter manages to achieve but how precious is the result of a lifetime to struggle to truly understand and represent an element of life:
“There is a very important experience here forthe painter: a whole category of things that could betermed “cliches” already fills the canvas, before the beginning. It is dramatic. Cezanne seems to haveeffectively passed through this dramatic experience atits highest point. Cliches are always already on thecanvas, and if the painter is content to transform thecliche, to deform or mutilate it, to manipulate it in everypossible way, this reaction is still too intellectual, too abstract: it allows the cliche to rise again from its ashes, itleaves the painter within the milieu of the cliche, or else Sixes him or her no other consolation than parody. D. H.Lawrence wrote some superb passages on this ever-lenewed experience of Cezanne’s:Alter a fight tooth-and-nail for forty years, he didsucceed in knowing an apple, fully: and. not quite asfully, a jug or two. ‘That was all he achieved. It seems little, and he died embittered. But it is the first step that counts, and Cezanne’s apple is a great deal, more than Plato’s Idea. If Cezanne had been willing to accept his own baroque cliche, his drawing would have been perfectly conventionally “all right,” and not a critic would have had a word to say about it. But when his drawing was conventionally all right, to Cezanne himself it was mockingly all wrong, it was cliche. So he Hew at it and knocked all the shape and stuffing out of it, and when it was so mauled that it was all wrong,and he was exhausted with it, he let it go; bitterly, because it was still not what he wanted. And here comes in the comic element in Cezanne’s pictures. His rage with the cliche made him distort the cliche sometimes into parody, as we see in pictures like The Pasha and La Femme. He wanted to express something, and before he could do it he had to light the hydra-headed cliche, whose last head he could never lop off. The light with the cliche is the most obvious thing in his pictures. The dust of battle rises thick, and the splinters fly wildly. And it is this dust of battle and Hying of splinters which his imitators still so fervently imitate I am convinced that what Cezanne himself wanted was representation. He wank true-to-life representation. Only he wanted it more true-to-life. And once you have got photography, it is a very, very difficult thing to get representation more true-to-life…. fry as he might, women remained a known, ready-made cliche object for him, and he could not break through the concept obsession to get at theintuitive awareness of her. Except with his wife and in his wife he did at least know the appleyness.. .. With men Cezanne often dodged it by insisting on the clothes, those stiff cloth jackets bent into thick folds, those hats, those blouses, those curtains…. When Cezanne did sometimes escape tin- cliche altogether and really give a complete intuitive interpretation of actual objects is in some of the still-life compositions. Here he is inimitable. His imitators imitate his accessories of tablecloths folded like tin, etc. the unreal parts of his pictures – but they don’t imitate the pots and apples, because they can’t. It’s the real appleyness, and you can’t imitate it. Every man must create it new and different out of himself: new and different. The moment it looks “like” Cezanne, it is nothing.
Cliches, cliches! The situation has hardly improved since Cezanne. Not only has there been a multiplication of images of every kind, around us and in our heads, but even the reactions against cliches are creating cliches.Even abstract painting has not been the last to produce its own cliches: “all these tubes and corrugated vibrationsare stupid enough for anything and pretty sentimental.”
I.very imitator has always made the cliche rise up again,even from what had been freed from the cliche. The fight against cliches is a terrible thing. As Lawrence says, it is already something to have succeeded, to have gotten somewhere, with regard to an apple, or a jug or two. The Japanese know that a whole life barely suffices for a single blade of grass. This is why great painters are so severe with their own work. Too many people mistake a photograph for a work of art a plagiarism for an audacity, a parody for a laugh, or worse yet, a miserable ke of inspiration for a creation. But great painters know that it is not enough to mutilate, maul, or parody cliche in order to obtain a true laugh, a true formation. Bacon is as severe with himself as was Cezanne, and like Cezanne, he lost many of his paintings,or renounced them, threw them away, as soon as the enemy reappeared. He passes judgment: the series of crucifixions? Too sensational, too sensational to be felt. Even the bullfights, too dramatic. The series of Popes? “I have tried very, very unsuccessfully to do certain records distorted records” of Velasquez’s Pope, and “I regret them, because I think they’re very silly … because I think that this thing was an absolute thing.”‘ What then, according to Bacon himself, should remain of Bacon’s work? Some of the series of heads, perhaps, one or two aerial triptychs, and a large back of a man. Nothing more than an apple, or one or two jugs.”