nervousmotion artworks blog

Mysteries of the Rectangle – introduction.

I was lucky enough this weekend not only to have dinner with Siri Hustvedt and Paul Auster, but also to receive from Siri a copy of her book, Mysteries of the Rectangle, which I promptly dove into as I am in an art-devouring mood (even more so than usual – my trip to New York seems to have jump started my art engines). There is so much of this book that I identify with and feel strongly about that I had to break my vow for shared books with my husband and start scribbling in the margins, underlining paragraphs, generally making a well-loved mess of the page. I have always done this with books, whereas my husband prefers his pages to remain pristine. I have compromised in our shared library by writing down quotations and thoughts in my journal, but in this case, I would have had to transcribe entire pages to get down everything that was important to me.

From the introduction:

Painting is there all at once. When I read a book, listen to music, or go to a movie, I experience these works over time. A novel, a symphony, a film are meaningful only as a sequence of words, notes, and frames. Hours may pass but a painting will not gain or lose any part of itself. It has no beginning, no middle, and no end. I love painting because in its immutable stillness it seems to exist outside time in a way no other art can. The longer I live the more I would like to put the world in suspension and grip the present before it’s eaten by the next second and becomes the past. A painting is an illusion of an eternal present, a place where my eyes can rest as if the clock has magically stopped ticking.

I feel like a lot of Siri’s (this is weird, I usually refer to authors by their last names, but in this case since I’ve met and hugged the author in question, it seems a bit pretentious, and yet, my inner college students still wants to write “Ms. Hustvedt”) statements about painting can be applied to any two-dimensional art, and some – especially the bit about “gripping the present” seem to be more appropriate to photography than to painting. One could say that with photomontage, the artist is reconstructing many present moments to create an amalgamation of moments, a summation of a whole that never actually existed. Whenever I think of art that perfectly captures an instant of the present, this photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson immediately springs to mind.

More from Siri:

Visual art exists only to be seen. It is the silent encounter between the viewer, “I,” and the object, “it.” That “it,” however, is the material trace of human consciousness. The artist, who is missing from the scene, has nevertheless left us a work, an act of pure will, which has no practical purpose. The painting carries within the residue of an “I,” or a “you.” In art, the meeting between viewer and thing implies intersubjectivity. Despite the fact that I would run in terror if a painting actually talked to me, I am alert to the human presence that is part of the object. Common parlance makes it clear that most people feel this way about art. “That really spoke to me” has become a gallery cliché.

The intersubjectivity inherent in looking at art means that it is a personal, not impersonal, act. I have often thought of paintings as ghosts, the specters of a living body, because in them we feel and see not only the rigors of thought, but the marks left by a person’s physical gestures – strokes, dabs, smudges. In effect, painting is the still memory of that human motion, and our individual response to it depend on who we are, on our character […].

This, to me, especially rings true for self-portraiture (both painted and photographed). Here we have not only the work of the artist, but the artist’s reflection of hirself. (Yes, I am using clunky gender neutral pronouns. You can take the art-fag out of Hampshire, but you can’t take the Hampshire out of the art-fag.) You, the viewer, are looking into the artist’s view of the artist. It’s an endless reflection – looking at the image of the artist looking back at you.

Frida Kahlo



Diane Arbus

To me, it isn’t painting, but music that is the most ghostly of arts – especially the vocal recordings of musicians who are now deceased. To hear the songs of, say, John Lennon, is to hear an encapsulated moment when he was truly alive. That moment is lasting forever and ever, replayed to infinity. The moment when the artist created the image has passed, and now the image is traveling through time alone, but the moment when Elliott Smith recorded “Miss Misery” is intact and transmitted over and over again from listener to listener. I suppose in a way, this also holds true for photography, but I feel it more intensely with music.


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