Thursday, September 22, 2005

Of the cliche

I finished reading Deleuze's "Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation" a few weeks ago. In it, he talks about artistic production as a process, in the case of painting, of ridding one's canvas of cliches. I'm both intrigued and vexed by this argument. On the one hand, it sounds perfectly sensible. Isn't the inventional process of art precisely that--invention--or the artist's more or less deliberate effort to dissociate her or himself from the familiar or cookie-cut? On the other hand, I'm persuaded by the work of Henri Lefebvre, who sees the mundane, the ordinary, the banal, the everyday--the cliched--as precisely the source of the extraordinary within the ordinary. Art or originality, for Lefebvre, consists of repeating the same thing all over again, differently. I wonder, then, if art isn't a process of painting (writing, sculpting, building, etc.) over cliches as much as it is a process of repeating the cliche in a new or novel way. Deleuze's book on Bacon very well may be a case in point. Deleuze sees Bacon as someone who has, in effect, unpainted the generic form of the portrait. But isn't Bacon still, at some level, a portraitist? Perhaps rather than unpainting the portrait, he's repainted the form in a fundamentally new way. The cliche is, I believe, more our friend than Deleuze would care to think it is.

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