Three Aesthetic Questions

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1. Schubert’s Unfinished

Shall I devote a poem to the fragment, the unfinished? Yes, because each thing is a fragment and some works were meant to be unfinished like Schubert’s Unfinished, my prime example of the aesthetic of incompleteness, or Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” its sublime ending belying the fable of the poem’s composition, an opium dream. Nor shall we overlook the slaves of Michelangelo, encased in marble, Shelley’s exit line (“ ‘Then what is Life?’ I cried”) and Kafka’s novels, which begin everywhere and end nowhere, as if no ending were equal to the nothingness at the end of the rainbow, the wall too high to climb at the end of the walk.

2. El Greco’s Elongations

Do we agree with Roger Fry who commended El Greco for “his complete indifference” to what the public wanted? Do we admire the artist’s uncompromising self so much that “verisimilitude of texture” ceases to be a virtue and any “harshness of accent” or “crudity of color opposition” is OK if necessary to the realization of an idea? Fry wrote in 1920 in advance of any guard. He influenced everybody, and I speak from personal experience, because when I started looking at art, the harder it was to understand, the better I liked it. In short: what is art?

3. Matisse’s Open Window

Do you believe that Matisse’s “Blue Nudes” (1952) in its simplicity — one color, one fluid motion — was easier to compose than his “Open Window” (1905), a harbor of sails framed by the shutters of his hotel room window in the bright fauve day? Matisse didn’t have to think. He looked and knew the harbor is life, and blessed be the light that results in such blossoms of color, an exuberance that proves every seascape is a lover’s state of heart. “Blue Nudes,” a set of four lithographs, reflects Matisse’s “cut out” method of composition, paper on paper, blue on white, no paint at all. With this in mind, which would you say was the more avant-garde?