Mr. Hyman, writing at the top of his form, tells us that "The blurred mark runs all through Sickert's art; but where in Impressionism blur implies immediacy, or in Degas transitoriness, or in Bonnard memory, I emerge from each visit to this retrospective [Sickert: Paintings - Royal Academy] more and more convinced that in Sickert the blur embodies evasion. Much in our response to Sickert depends on whether we experience his muffling as mystery (even, as one reviewer has already suggested, as melancholy) or else, as some absence of emotional disclosure and confronation altogether more damaging to his stature. In the photo-based works of his final years, emotional vacuity seems so explicit as to signal that ironic numbness which, at least since Warhol, has been recognized as one of the ways by which contemporary artists register the condition of modernity."
Here members may see a good many of Sickert's things, thanks to our bountiful Corporation:
I should perhaps confess that I have never really liked Walter Richard Sickert's paintings, Gerard. Nevertheless, if I may address your opening question directly:
"Does the blur embody evasion?"
No. If you look at an impressionistic painting, it appears blurred. This defines the art movement. Nevertheless, someone once explained to me that if you half close your eyes, Gerard, the vision in front of you will become blurred, just like in an impressionistic painting.
Impressionism can therefore be thought of as a different way of seeing the world. Painting, after all, should not really replicate photography! In terms of impressionists, I therefore commend Edouard Manet to everyone reading The Third!
As a child, up to and including the age of eight, Sickert was an entire little German, accosting passers-by with the cry "Ausweis zeigen!" But all that ended when in that year he came to England and leanred the English language and British ways. Indeed from his late twenties he was an unflagging reviewer (his critical output being matched, among twentieth-century artists of comparable stature, only by Carlo Carrà). The 350-page anthology, A Free House, was published by Macmillan in 1947 but incomprehensibly never reissued, and to-day, as Richard Shone has pointed out, a new selection is long overdue. Sickert's is the most exuberantly entertaining voice in all British art-writing. [But what about Wyndham Lewis? Has Mr. Hyman forgotten him - or never read him?] He [Sickert] establishes his persona — especially in his Burlington Magazine columns of the 1920s — as curmudgeonly old boulevardier, who loves to pull the tails of sacred cows as he saunters past. From 1910, that meant Roger Fry's Post-Impressionism ("a purely Anglican incantation on a theme strictly French") and, more specifically, Cézanne, of whom, in 1914, "to criticise him is, morally, almost like criticising an artist without arms". . . . Or again, in 1927: "Cézanne was prolific in the sense that a muddle-headed man who never stops talking and stammers and begins all over again and gives it up, can be said to be eloquent." In the same vein, Monet's "Waterlilies" are characterized in 1917 as "a doctrinaire and megalomaniac vegetarian series".
I suppose that it is worth asking whether evasion is necessarily a bad thing in art. Upon reflection, Sydney Grew, I would answer 'No!'
Art, including music, is a form of human expression, in a similar way that language is a form of human expression. Of course, we use language to communicate with one another, although we also use language not to communicate with one another. The reasons for non-communication are numerous, but we may, deliberately, want to be evasive. I may not want Sydney Grew to know precisely what I am doing, or thinking, or feeling, this morning, for example, and that may cause me to write an evasive posting here in The Third!
Nevertheless, all forms of human expression are, in a profound sense, autobiographical. Even our intention to evade one another says something about us. As for impressionism, the visual arts and the wider arts and culture in general, the relationship between culture and society is not at all simple and predictable. A pseudo-Marxist approach works fairly well in the decorative arts, for example, but artists of real talent always seem to slip through the net and swim in the opposite direction. Claude-Oscar Monet's waterlilies are but one example, amongst many!