Dec 2, 2010

Robert Graves' "The Naked and the Nude": Classic and Romantic



The Naked and the Nude

I usually try not to reek of the classroom this much, so first, forgive me if all this sounds like an insulting, incomplete and biased reprise of Art Appreciation 101. In the last paragraph, I try to make my case for the personal importance of this academic/Cliffs Notes discussion.


I’ve always liked Robert Graves’ poem, “The Naked and the Nude,” but I make the mistake of assuming that everyone hears the same distinction Graves does between the two key words and concepts in the title.

Parallel to Graves’ dichotomy, I think that in intellectual history there are only two philosophical or aesthetic traditions in all of art (verbal, visual, musical): the Classical and the Romantic. They supersede or encompass everything else.

Of course, Classical and Romantic features are not often black and white; any given work or artist might be a mix, showing some tendencies of both traditions, both sensibilities.

Graves’ “The Naked and the Nude” sits in the classical or neoclassical or Augustan tradition, which values wit, urbanity, cleverness, and brain power over the romantic values of intense feelings, pastoral settings (as well as Nature's violent forms), idealism, earnestness, and the power of the heart and emotion or intuition or mysticism or spirituality over rationality and logic and restraint and symmetry.

It’s ironic, then, that Graves seems happy to have his restrained Nude folks becoming romantically, full-out Naked in the end.

In this context, Moskowitz's “Hard Ball III” painting, posted here November 19, is, yes, minimalist or abstract expressionist or some other “ism.” But for our (larger) purposes today, it reflects a classical sensibility: spare, trim, reliant upon a trick of neurology and the perception process for its effect—all of which are antithetical to Romantic effusiveness.

In today’s paintings from the Detroit Institute of Arts, there might be room for debate. Does each of these three women belong to one tradition more than the other, Classical or Romantic? If not, how are the features blended? And which of them is naked, which is nude? I’m temporarily omitting the painters’ names for the sake of more honest guessing.

I repeat, responses don’t have to claim all of one tradition and none of the other. Feel free to mix and match. What are the Classical and Romantic elements in any one painting?

By the way, this is not just some academic's B.S. compulsion to categorize. I think the Classical and Romantic are two ways of being in the world—for individuals, for regions, for cultures and segments of cultures. In your truest self, are you more Classical or Romantic? What do you like and dislike about your answer? Surely responding to those questions tells us something worth knowing about ourselves, our country, our times.

And as the quip goes, "I'll show you mine if . . . ."

The Naked and the Nude

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12 comments:

Jean Spitzer said...

Okay, I'll play.

These are all "nudes" though the first is clothed.

I don't think the most interesting dichotomy is between classical and romantic, but between truth and lie.

These are all "lies" in some sense. Even the first, arguably less idealized, woman is an object in the painting.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

By your rules huh; and I say "rules" because you've somehow managed to work your way around the concept of "the shoes on the other foot."

To begin, I can't read the poem. So thats off the table. Google searches led back to that page.
Web Design 101. Never use a black or near black page with white type. It's been known to cause seizures in epileptics and others. Personally, I see ghost images of type; usually triple form. Close window.

Moskowitz's “Hard Ball III" isn't a clean ism. That is unless crackism counts (between the cracks/ not fully one or the other) quote me if you like....all the bells and whistles of your description of classicism yet, dare I say the choice of subject is romantic? Much of 20th century art practice is laid out by Kirk Varnedoe in the first five minutes (the Picasso/Duchamp binary)...you brought it up

About the paintings; if you stick a naked woman into the picture frame with drapery (a necessity for argument) and you keep surrounding elements to a minimum...it's classical. If she's lying down and surrounded by lushness, it's romantic.

About artifice. All is artifice which is where the questioning presented by minimalism comes into play (you know, that white canvas that gets people so worked up?; Clement Greenberg art critic..."The essence of Modernism lies, as I see it, in the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself"... lets put to rest (and this isn't directed at you Banjo Man) the "I don't know much about wine but I know what I like" argument...done

btw: I've never been in a gynecologist office that didn't have a impressionist painting on the wall. Therefor I have no objectivity left as regards that particular ism (you'll have to excuse me if I skip over the Renoir)...although I do like this Mary Cassatt

I've showed you A LOT of mine (68 minutes worth). Now it's time for you to show a little of yours. Reciprocation is much appreciated

BANJO52 said...

Jean, an interesting and huge point. Is all art a lie because it's an artifice? Or only if it treats its subject(s) in some . . . false? . . . way, such as objectifying women? Is "falseness" the right word?

Let's see if others respond. I hope they do.

PA, so much to respond to, ask about. I'll start with two small items. I too dislike white print on dark background--probably should have looked around more for a copy of the poem. Secondly, I like the Cassat you offer--seems like an unusual amount of yellow, or is that just me? I like your Paragraph 4 example.

Out of space, will continue in a new box.

BANJO52 said...

Your Paragraph 5, on artifice and "I know what I like"—let's see if others jump in there. For now, I’ll go this far: I've said before that I hate it when I ask someone trained in art, "What's good here?" (in this gallery, for example). And s/he says, "If you like it, it's good."

Maybe that B.S. was a 1970s phenomenon, but it's happened to me more than once. I don't expect a mathematically rigid or authoritarian or doctrinaire answer, but I also don't care for the disingenuous pretense that I know art as well as they do. I might keep on liking a piece that’s deemed bad by the art canon, but I'd like to know what the art canon says.

More than once, I provoked this argument with anti-authority students.
“Well, who the hell's this canon guy?" they'd say.
"The experts," I'd say. "Fallible, flawed, politicized humans who have given their professional lives to studying this stuff."
"Oh yeah? What if I like it and they say it's bad?"
"You get to like it; you don't get to say it's high quality."
“Oh yeah?” Freddy Fallacy would say.
“Yeah. If you need brain surgery, are you going to your chummy, opinionated barber because you like him, he knows heads, in a way, and he has sharp instruments? Or are going to a brain surgeon, who might be obnoxious, arrogant, and smelly, but is the best brain surgeon around?”
“What have you got against barbers?”

Here endeth my catechism . . . for now. PA, is this responsive at all?

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Although my comment says 8:10 from the coast it was 4:10.

Well, I was hinting for a little "reciprocity" via my blog. You haven't left a comment since the 21st of November. All chocolate and valentines when visiting the other gals. Not that I'm keeping score

; ) maybe

show me the love Banjoman

altadenahiker said...

If you say the word nude
I think of studied pulchritude.
Whereas when I hear naked
I think of something much more sacred.

But then again,
I read this poem when I was ten.
And what worries me at this time,
is that I may have stepped on one of his rhymes.

BANJO52 said...

PA, I just tried this at your place and got rejected again (invalid email address, which it's not):

"Your site rejected my comment yesterday, so I'll keep it brief.

"This is very educational--about a part of the world where I'm not likely to find myself. You bring it alive.

"There was a good essay on the Salton Sea in Best American Essays a couple of years ago. I'd never heard of it till then."

BANJO52 said...

AH, your childhood poem sounds a lot like Graves' idea, don't you think? I wish I could remember what I thought about the two words before I read the Graves.

Barbaro said...

Interesting to distill all art into two schools. Plausible, but I wonder if even that distinction is too much. Doesn't all worthwhile art blend the two? All classical is Philip Glass or computerized animation or Finnegans Wake. All romantic is John Tesh or finger painting or bathroom grafitti. Personally, I'm a romantic trapped in a classical body. The art I most admire seems to be a similar blend--Brahms the classical romantic, Pollock the methodical spatterer, Keats the impassioned brainiac, Cezanne the restrained rulebreaker, Faulkner the dry effusive...

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I feel better now. Go check your corn dog mail. I've left you a screen shot on how it works. You shouldn't have a problem anymore.

Now you have me wondering what the "less brief" comment said

Jean Spitzer said...

Barbaro says it well. But I'd go farther and say that even the most romantic or classical on his scale have at least a smidge of the other.

Similarly, any piece of art lies and is truthful, in varying amounts.

Banjo52 said...

Jean, I never meant to imply that a lot of art is all of one and none of the other. Some, maybe, like Wordsworth vs. Dryden, but not much. Keats is certainly a blend.

Lovers' Lane