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2005 Wk 0 quote

Last year I intended to post something about the 'inspirational' quotes in my work desk diary each week, but I got alarmed by the tendancy of them to become religious in tone. I'm going to try again this year, but have had the forethought to check the first few quotes before beginning. The first belongs to the last week of 2004, so I've called it wk 0.

"The subject is to the painter what the rails are to the locomotive. He cannot do without it."
Diego Rivera, 1886-1957. Mexican painter.
See how it lures me with something I already know something about. Like most subjects I know "something" about, I can sum my immediate knowledge up in three points. So 'Diego Rivera' brings up the following three mental card files:
Frida Kahlo has become something of a cult, revered by modern female artists who wish to have some suggestion of meaning. Her paintings are collected by Madonna, and La Ciccone was very keen to play Kahlo on film but lost out to Selma Hayek. Some of Kahlo's work is good, but what tends to attract the cultish behaviour is her life. Revolutionary and suffering from spinal injuries which left her bed-bound or forced her to wear a metal ribcage, what Frida did best for some people was suffer. Poor Diago gets left behind in all this rather like Peron is secondary to the cult of Eva - you wonder if there is some Catholic element of Mary worship about the icon-building that surrounds these two women.

I'm wrong in that Rivera was a Marxist not a socialist, famous for incorporating Lenin in his works. This ties rather well to the analogy Rivera is making in the quote. In the 1920s and 30s, a lot of artwork was concerned with the workers and, by extension, the machine. From art deco, through constructivism, vorticism and futurism: everything was about change and dynamism. This was the machine age, when speed and steam powered revolutions. Lenin returned triumphant to Russia on the front of a locomotive (anyone spotting a relationship between art and politics yet? Trotsky was rumoured to have had an affair with Kahlo...). A locomotive without rails can go nowhere, change nothing (for the obsession with speed is also an obsession with change) so an artist without a subject is powerless, unable to effect their surroundings. Rivera is arguing for art to have effective power, not that it must be depictive.

A good starting quote for the year?

Posted @ 11:49 pm on Tuesday, January 04, 2005
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