Trying to get my thoughts in order…

Over the weekend I watched four Star Trek films: 5 (The Final Frontier), 6 (The Undiscovered Country), 7 (Generations), and 8 (First Contact). I hadn’t seen any of them for at least a couple of years, and I found my reactions to some had changed, and some had stayed the same.

TFF I still like, though of course it has serious flaws of structure (too jokey in the middle, and the journey to the God planet too short and easy). But I like the character stuff, and the way they are tearing down idols in the manner of TOS.
TUC I find I like less than I did in younger years: apart from dinner with the Klingons and the “are we obsolete” scene, I find it hard to like. There are a lot of things about it that niggle at me, but then we could say that of almost any Trek film. I haven’t been able to figure out why this one rubs me the wrong way, but there it is.
GEN was a lot better than I previously thought; much has been made of the plot problems of the Nexus and Kirk’s death, but if we can accept these then there is a lot to like. The first 40 minutes are great; after this the level remains, on average, very good. We could wish for Kirk to end another way, but the intentions of the writers and actors were sincere, and I find that counts for something.
FC doesn’t impress me as much as it used to, now that I’ve become familiar with its plot; the various strands of the plot don’t add up to a lot, and I find I don’t much care about Picard or Data’s encounters with the Borg. (And once again the “we don’t use money in the future” speech seems unbelievable to me)

Now, what elements are there in common among the films I like, and the films I don’t? I think a large part of it may be to do with grandeur of scale, both physical and thematic.

TUC and FC feel relatively small in scale:
Despite the distances supposedly travelled in TUC, it seems like all the locations are in ready reach of each other (Earth, Kronos, Rura Penthe, Khitomer), and travel between them is easy and brief. The Kronos court room, the mines, and the conference hall all feel too small in scale (though for some reason the Klingon ship interior is HUGE). The interior of the Enterprise is widely explored, but only in the bathetic search for boots (and mashed potatoes).
FC is set on Earth, admittedly Earth of the past, but as usual with time travel stories the mechanism is basically ‘press X for past, press Y for future’. The lack of effort in the travel means I don’t feel impressed by the change in time-location. Also, the new Enterprise feels very cramped and small in scale for some reason.

Both these stories are very grounded in politics and military operations. Cochrane’s flight should be an exception to this, but unfortunately it is commandeered by Riker, who barks orders at Cochrane and gives off the attitude that space flight is mundane.

TFF and GEN by contrast deal with larger things:
In TFF, Nimbus III feels like a neglected outpost very remote from civilization. Just the look and attitude of things there suggest it’s a long difficult journey to reach it. The subsequent journey to galactic centre is sadly much too easy, but there is still a sense of moving from one kind of space to a very different one, and then stepping onto an alien world.
GEN has its roaming anomaly, which regularly traverses the entire galaxy every few years. The initial encounter has an impressively vast appearance, and the later stellar cartography scene gives a sense of the interstellar distances and forces that are involved in this story. The crash of the saucer-section is not as impressive as the film-makers hoped, and neither is the part of the story set in the Nexus, but the mountain peak Soran has chosen as his launch site is convincingly arid, rugged and remote.
There is also an unusual sense of temporal scale, with long-lived (immortal?) characters connecting the two periods of the story, and Kirk meeting Picard not by travelling through time, but by a kind of shortcut through “God’s waiting room”.

In contrast to the previous mentioned films, TFF and GEN are concerned with metaphysical themes:
TFF is essentially about a religious pilgrimage, along the way raising questions about the nature of God and faith, and the necessity of suffering, and it also touches on Vulcan philosophy.
GEN too is essentially a religious investigation: what is Nexus if not a physically observable Heaven? The harmonious wish fulfilment of heavenly life is compared unfavourably with the potential moral advancement of reality, in which suffering is balanced by the possibility of “making a difference”. Confining the minds of those caught in the Nexus, Heaven is smaller than the universe, rather than being infinite.

I guess we can deduce from my speculations the sorts of stories that interest me. Although I’m not much interested in morality tales of the ‘tolerance=good!’ sort, I like stories that reflect on the nature of life and humanity. OTOH I imagine that these same contemplative aspects might be, for other Trek fans, irrelevant or even a source of distaste.

Amanda Lewis has written a hagiography of the novelist Haruki Murakami, and apparently believes he deserves the Nobel prize. Let’s overlook that the prize is historically a badge of ephemerality, of middle-brow worthiness, of mediocrity.

Lewis believes Haruki Murakami became a more important writer when he got a message to convey. She helpfully summarises his message: individuals are more important than groups, individual perception is more important than historical truth or fact, violence is caused by depersonalisation of individuals. Well, that’s handy. Now we have the message, we don’t need to read the books.

One point of Haruki Murakami’s that Lewis emphasises near the end of her essay is that fact is near-worthless next to hearsay. It is somehow more “true”. Well, of course we are familiar with the idea that a poetic truth has more value, or is more profound than a mundane fact of reality. But it’s not necessarily true. Things that we call profound SEEM important; their actual importance is another thing.

For example, in Murakami’s “After the quake” he says (says Lewis) that the only person emotionally affected by news of a distant earthquake is a four-year-old girl, who has “hysterical fits” after watching news reports, because she has not yet learned the apathy of adults. Wow, what a deep truth about the innocence of childhood and moral degradation of adulthood. Except that a girl who had such fits would be extremely unusual, as four-year-olds feel very little empathy except for people who are close to them. The author’s great “truth” is a cheap poetic device conceived by someone who doesn’t know much about how people’s minds really work. The fact that he is “socially conscious” does not vindicate him. His “truth” is vacuous and inane.

At the end of the essay, Lewis relates some anecdotes about encountering the “Japanese mind”, but is unable to relate this to Haruki Murakami’s thesis in the obvious way: he has developed concern for the value of overlooked individual experience, contrasted with his previous self-professed contempt for the “masses”. But Lewis’s anecdotes show that most people don’t want to be individuals as much as they want to be like everyone else.

Instead of delivering a message, Murakami should be asking questions: What is the value of the individuality of a person who despises this quality in themselves? Of what value is that person, compared with a person who does not think their opinions and beliefs have universal qualities? And is “individuals have value” enough of a take-home message to entitle the novelist to a prize?

Revisited two outliers from the Alien universe:

Alien Resurrection DVD cover

It’s interesting to think about why the later films are less successful than the first two. The first two are thematically very basic, 1. Old Dark House, 2. War movie. Any moral ambivalence lies in the human shenanigans.

The later two films tried to go deeper, in a way Hollywood isn’t set up to bring off. 3 is about acceptance of death (symbolised by the Alien), with the planet location being purgatory/hell. I basically like it, and it’s on my list of films to re-edit.

4 – they never quite figured it out. The overall plot motivation seems to be “We want another Alien movie.” There are ideas about the merging and crossing over of alien and human identities, but these are dropped into the plot sporadically, in amongst the action set-pieces and humorous interludes. The humour generally undermines the tone of the movie, and seems to be the film-maker winking at us, rather than something emerging naturally from the characters (as in the previous films). Weaver plays the human/alien hybrid character with a lot of smirking and artificial gestures, and is not particularly believable. Also, one thing that really bugs me, and always has, is Ripley providing a mercy killing – with a flame thrower! Surely a bullet to the head would have been kinder?

Thinking on the deceptive simplicity of the first two Alien films, I dug out my copy of

Alien vs. Predator DVD cover

In terms of achieving its aims, this is a much more successful film than Resurrection. I just wish there had been more grandiosity and sense of plot direction in the later part of the pyramid section. In comparison with the earlier film, we could say this one is a tasty take-out burger, while Resurrection is a high-grade steak that is half raw, half burned to a crisp.

Next up, another viewing of Pitch Black, which David Twohy developed from his proposal for an Alien sequel set on the creature’s homeworld.


A definition of art

22 August, 2011

A work of art is a beautiful, made object.

I arrived at that definition while trying to clear away the Romantic and Modern dross that has accumulated around the concept. In essence, art (deriving from the Latin, roughly meaning skill, craft or technique) is a thing created by a person (so a sunset may be beautiful, but it is not art). It is created to be beautiful, i.e. its function is aesthetic, not practical (hence Wilde’s assertion that art is useless). And its virtues proceed from its being an actual thing that exists in the world, not a concept or ideal.

What do I mean by ‘beautiful’? Obviously there are artworks which we can enjoy which don’t necessarily fit the conventional idea of beauty. But if they stimulate us in a pleasant way, then I would call them beautiful. (And if we find them genuinely unpleasant, we avoid them.) But still, what is beauty?

Recall Pinker’s description of music as “cheesecake for the mind”. I think that fits with my materialist idea of what art actually does. In the case of music, patterns of vibrating air are received through the senses, and stimulate electrochemical activity in the brain which we find rewarding. Proportions and textures and interrelationships are arranged in patterns which we perceive to be “right”, for whatever psychological or biological reason.

As you can see, I don’t believe in a literally spiritual dimension of art. I don’t think that a great artwork exists somehow beyond time, space and conventional morality. I also regard “profundity” as a product of perception, and not as a special mystical insight. I can reach the end of Bruckner’s 9th with a sensation of intellectual and emotional ecstasy, profundity and insight – but what is this ‘insight’? The world has not changed, and neither have I (except perhaps in becoming more sensitive to aesthetic experience).

I don’t think this way of looking at art diminishes it or my experience of it. Art still affects me; it’s just that I don’t proceed from that effect to the notion that I have received mystical (or sociopolitical) insight.

I’ve been thinking about architecture, prompted by watching Grand Designs and reading this thread.

I don’t want to go into a long rant, so I’ll just state some basic principles which underlie my tastes:

Architecture is not sculpture. We’ve been sold a bill of goods as far as “human”, “playful” postmodern architecture is concerned. A provocative sculpture is not the same as a good building. I call these things “gimmick buildings”; they are amusing in the short term but banal and annoying in the long term – and the long term is what architects should be thinking of. In fact, in practical experience, these are generally bad buildings. You can’t make a comfortable home out of a concept, however “visionary” that concept may be. (Nor can you redeem a Modernist box by pasting a sneering caricature of a past style over the facade.)

Modernism was wrong. Critics and defenders alike of Modernist trends usually overlook that Modernism was an intellectual trend imposed across society, not confined to any one area of life. The Modernist impetus to wipe out the “redundant” past, and create superior new forms from nothing except abstract ideology, is visible in Communism (and, disguised, in Fascism), architecture, music, writing, education, etc., etc. A few worthy creations labelled Modernist do not justify the eradication and derision of all the old ways; we see that the best of culture usually arises from organic development, and not by reinventing the wheel.

Flat roofs are stupid. Unless you are building in a place with NO precipitation (and with no massive duststorms), flat roofs are impractical, expensive to keep up, and more liable to fail disastrously. (They also often are eaveless, so that modern “pure” box buildings are streaked with grime from the run-off, and in hot countries the lack of eaves means you use more energy keeping the interior cool.)

Doors are for closing. Sure, you may feel, in some hippyish way, that living without the artificial barriers of doors and walls will lead to some sort of freeing of consciousness, spiritually and politically and environmentally. But do you really want your kids to hear you fucking (or you to hear them) from the other side of your open-plan communal dwelling? Do you want to smell someone frying garlic while you are having a shit (or, God forbid, vice versa)? Do you want to try figuring out the household finances while listening to the kids playing on the X-Box and the spouse watching a movie? The invention of the door was one of the major events of civilisation, because it was a revolutionary machine for keeping bad air (and predators) out, maintaining a comfortable temperature, and getting silence and privacy in which to think for yourself. Don’t throw that gift away.

Windows have consequences. Just in the last year or two, a new building went up at Sydney University which is basically a glass box suspended in the air. It will cost a FORTUNE to keep cool in summer, and warm in winter. The advantage of this design? Well… I suppose it’s cheaper to build a giant greenhouse than to drop a billion dollars worth of gold bricks into the ocean. There is that. Oh, and, of course, it has a flat roof.
The opposite approach is also used – great concrete bunkers (often university libraries) with tiny slits for windows that are practically useless, and make the occupants feel like prisoners.
This is also the place to mention that great hypocrite Mies van der Rohe, who berated his clients for installing curtains or blinds in their windows, which should have been kept pure and bare, and meanwhile, in his own home, Mies was surrounded by bourgeois chintz.
Nowadays, many commissioners of domestic fish tanks architecture have drunk the Kool-aid, and, like self-flagellating monks, willingly expose themselves to the glare of the sun and the gaze of their neighbours, all in the cause of Modernism. As with open-planning (see “Doors are for closing”, above), it seems that Modernists regard the desire for privacy as something shameful. Like Victorians trying to prevent masturbation, Modernists are horrified at the thought of a person going about their business without the constant supervision of their family or co-workers or neighbours or random passers-by. What have you got to hide?!? Take all the doors off their hinges, confiscate all blinds and curtains. Be Healthy and Clean and constantly visible to all. I suspect all this enforced openness has a deleterious effect on the psyche.

Apart from the above approaches to avoid, here are some positive suggestions:

Subtle ornament. All the great buildings of the past use elegant, repeated motifs to make them seem organic and alive. However, please note the word “subtle”. Giant flashing lights installed at one metre intervals across a bare concrete plane are not subtle.

Regularity, but softened. The human eye loves symmetry and regularity, but this should not be overdone. Patterns of regular repeating features should be occasionally broken up with an element that complements, not contrasts, the overall scheme.

Human scale. Low ceilings and narrow corridors are oppressive, because the person feels confined and restricted; towering ceilings and huge doorways are also oppressive, because the person feels dominated and lost. If you are a human being, you will know what the happy medium looks like. Apply that to your buildings. Remember that the ratio of height to width determines scale, but the amount of light in a space is also an important factor.

Sun and shade in 3:2 proportion. This is a rough ratio for designing outdoor spaces, so that people can shelter from the elements (and not feel exposed like ants on a rock) without being mired in gloom. For indoor design, I’d suggest reversing the ratio – certainly not exceeding it, because a degree of shadedness makes people feel safe, and this shouldn’t be sacrificed to an abstract notion of “openness” (see also the above section “Doors are for closing”).

I posted this in a forum as a response to Alex Ross’s recent column “Why Do We Hate Classical Music?“, in the Guardian:

I’m afraid I find Ross’s argument hackneyed, as well as a bit confused.

First, the problem of new artists versus old masters. This isn’t unique to music at all. In fact the only exception to the rule I can think of is cinema, in which the mass audience generally dismisses anything over 20 years old. But then, in that field, there have been undeniable technical advances which make most earlier films look primitive – there isn’t really comparable technicological drift in other fields.

Second, the comparisons in other fields are in many respects invalid. Architects and painters in particular rely on an extremely small group of patrons for their success (or failure), whereas music really needs a mass audience.

Third, you will actually find people who disagree with the Modernist “icons”, despite the weight of conventional wisdom. For instance, we had a debate on the merits of Picasso in this forum earlier this year. I think a number of these icons remain so because of the strenuous vocalisations of a tiny minority, rather than their inherent values.

At the core of Ross’s piece is the same old controversy about “outdated” tonality suppressing “historically inevitable” atonality. If it is suppressed, it’s because people want it suppressed. And in my listening experience, it’s not even because atonal music is difficult, but because it’s boring. If the notes occur because of some extra-musical schema, their harmonic relationship is essentially random, and thus meaningless. And even outside this consideration, atonalists seem to me generally incapable of constructing a rhetorical or dramatic flow to a piece that makes it engaging. (But this is something even modern tonalists seem to lack.)

Indeed, it’s striking that film-makers have made lavish use of the same dissonances that concertgoers have found so alienating. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, with its hallucinatory György Ligeti soundtrack, mesmerised millions in the late 1960s. … If the human ear were instinctively hostile to dissonance, these and 1,000 other Hollywood productions would have failed.

This is a junk argument, partly because music accompanying a dramatic visual experience is processed differently to “pure” music, and mostly because atonal music in film always represents or evokes an alienating, horrific, or inhuman experience. It does this because it sounds “wrong”, and I would argue this wrongness stems from a cause that is biological, not “merely” cultural. (Inverted commas around “merely”, because I disagree with the Modernist idea that culture, particularly Western culture, must be undermined and overthrown).

Here are my thoughts on the biological necessity of tonally-based music:

1) Humans are wired to be pattern-finders. Presented with any complex, apparently chaotic system, we look for patterns and meanings. So strong is this instinct that we even find patterns and meanings in places where they don’t exist.

Music is complex, particularly classical music, and we derive pleasure from identifying and following its patterns, regardless of whether we identify these patterns as emotions or technical phenomena. There is an element of trust involved. We want to believe that there is some conscious intent behind the meanings we discover (just as we want to believe in God). For this reason, we have limited patience for music derived, or apparently derived, by chance.

2) Perhaps more controversially, I believe humans are programmed to find specific meanings in tonal relationships.

These meanings are both emotional and spatial. Two notes, the second a tone higher than the first, form a relationship which we cannot help but take as implying a change of elevation both physical and emotional. If the order of the notes is reversed, it must represent a decline or a reduction both physical and emotional. These meanings have value and interest to us, in as much as they are analogous to information about the real world.

If we introduce more notes, the meaning becomes more complex, thus more interesting and valuable. The use of several different tonalities/harmonies in close proximity brings a new dimension, which I suggest implies the simultaneous existence of multiple viewpoints, or places, in other words the complexities of community, or geography.

I assume you can see where I’m going with this. Tonality is a grid on which we can plot meaning. If we take away the grid, we are left with parts which are unrelated. Unrelated parts do not have meaning. Things without meaning are not interesting.

All this is not to say that tonal music cannot be incredibly boring, of course! The minimalists abuse tonality in another way, by repetition, but that’s an argument for another time.

With the arrival of the Francis Bacon retrospective at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, it seems the new fashion is to deride him, in an attempt to undermine and indeed eradicate his reputation. Chief suspects today are Jed Perl in the New Republic, and Peter Schjeldahl in the New Yorker (though you have to pay to read the whole article and find out how bitchy he really was, so I’ll be concentrating on Perl).

Typically for art critics, their devastating points are knowing allusions instead of anything concrete. They raise a veritable haystack of strawmen to knock down, and, as far as the actual paintings go, show themselves to have been rendered either blind or unfeeling by their occupation.

Perl says Bacon “owns” the “wrongheaded” tradition of the artist as romantic rebel, for the last half century. I’m not sure how he expects anyone with basic art knowledge to accept this, as (1), despite his insinuation that this was a special pursuit of Bacon’s, every artist aspires to this role, and (2) there are plenty of other, more famous artists eligible for the role, most notably Jackson Pollock (whom the US critics still don’t have the nerve to put down).

(“They are little more than rectangles of canvas inscribed with noirish graffiti.” I wonder how many canvases of literal graffiti have been praised by Perl over the years?)

“He zeroed in on those moments when Van Gogh and Picasso were pushing their glorious anarchic energy to the brink of incoherence [but] Bacon willfully ignored their ordering intelligence, preferring to sacrifice pictorial sensibility to literary sensationalism.” Schjeldahl made the same accusation of literary-ness, which made me nostalgic for Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word, which pointed out the ubiquitous use of this slur by modernist critics, who do so without accounting for what this term means and why is is so awful. I suppose it’s a slightly more specific term than “pictorial sensibility”, which as far as I can tell means “the sense of being a picture”.

“The Bacon mystique is not grounded in his paintings so much as in a glamorous list of extenuating circumstances.” This was also one of Schjeldahl’s jibes, that Bacon’s celebrity accounts for his reputation as a painter. Well, however much you repeat it, it remains unprovable, and certainly untrue in my case. I’ve encountered my share of homosexual sleaze, and to be honest Bacon’s shabby adventures bore me. A Bohemian who drank and liked rough trade? That’s hardly headline-grabbing stuff, is it?

(I’ll just briefly note here that no intelligent person takes an artist’s catalogue notes seriously. The stuff about wanting to express directly through paint was what critics of the time wanted to hear, shallow creatures that they are.)

Next Perl accuses Bacon of pandering to “intellectuals and jet-setters”, and of being “carefully calculated”, and in the painting of the death of his lover, “he gives his work a tabloid frisson.” Gee, can you see what he’s subtly implying here? He’s a fake, a sell-out – he’s not Real (this accusation based on no observable facts).

Let’s dissect this sentence: “[He runs] signs and symbols through the shredder,” i.e. he’s casual and doesn’t take Art seriously, “producing puzzles and enigmas,” i.e. he’s deliberately vague in order to fake the sensation of meaning, “flotsam and jetsam floating in a chic void,” chic corresponding with the “jet-setters” of the previous paragraph to imply he’s merely in it for the money. I remind the reader again that no evidence is produced for these arty-sounding insinuations.

“Bacon’s version of the man-all-alone-in-an-unfriendly-world routine takes on a retro appeal. … “Oh, that again.” ” Now Perl has taken a different tack: even if you used to like Bacon, you surely couldn’t now – it’s just old hat, isn’t it? Yesterday’s rags. The fashions have moved on! (Yes, he is in fact saying “If you like Bacon, you will be unfashionable”, which I sadly suppose is an argument with much power to move.)

“This emotional dissonance fits right in with a postmodern taste for muddleheaded irony” – so what kind of dissonance would fit with genuine irony?
Bacon’s Pope paintings have “a howling 1950s look” (1950s? How dated).
“By the 1970s, Bacon’s surfaces are smoother, at times looking almost airbrushed.” Airbrushed 1970s? Certainly redolent of a tacky panelvan painting – touché!
“The stretches of flatly applied paint in tan, gray, pink, and orange suggest the streamlined chic of the 1970s, when furnishings and clothes were done up in Ultrasuede. These paintings are high- style bummers, bad dreams with fashionable upholstery.” 1970s, Ultrasuede, the dated word “bummer” – you can just see Bacon in purple velvet flares now, can’t you? How gauche he must have been! That Perl guy sure knows about art.

(In his next paragraph, he basically hammers home that Bacon had the same handful of pictorial elements he kept reusing. That this could be said of almost any artist is something he doesn’t bother to mention.)

Now Perl employs a lot of airy-fairy words to compare Bacon with Giacometti. Can you guess who comes off better? On every point of divergence, Giacometti is a saint to Bacon’s abject scrabbler. And get this: while Bacon’s technique is “coarse methodical belligerence”, Giacometti has “graphic precision”.

Further more, “Giacometti does not prejudge experience in the way that Bacon does. … Freedom is a possibility in Giacometti’s universe, and this can pose a daunting challenge, especially for museumgoers who expect to be told what to feel.” Museumgoers who presumably feel much safer and more secure with Bacon’s writhing raw meat nightmares than Giacometti’s stick figures. So Bacon is accused of being safe and mainstream, as opposed to Giacometti’s (entirely nebulous) freedom.

Perl’s next paragraph would take far to long to analyse thoroughly, except for its last sentence: “The organic nature of painting, the end-to-end logic that characterizes all painting, whether in Rembrandt or in Mondrian, is rejected in favor of a modernist re-staging of a fin-de-siecle freakshow.” Ignore the final phrase for a minute. What does the rest of this sentence actually mean? What is the “end-to-end logic that characterizes all painting”? Is “end-to-end logic” really synonymous with “organic nature”? If you know what words actually mean, you know the answer is “no”. This highfalutin language is meaningless, and the use of educated-seeming blather is a fundamental part of Perl’s critical technique. It hardly needs stating that the last part of the sentence is also ultimately without meaning, except as a generalised conjuration of negative association.

Finally, Perl reveals that he has expended all these words in the service of Real Art. “The actual matter of art–the artisanal concerns, the structural assumptions–are all too often seen as reactionary and academic, something for pedants and conservatives to bother about.” Well, I agree with this, actually, but I’m not sure how tearing down Bacon to raise Giacometti serves this purpose.
“Bacon … is the real academic–a pasticheur and parodist of avant-garde attitudes.” For the bewildered – no, that is not the definition of “academic”, in any of the shades of meaning that term possesses. But Perl is associating Bacon with the dry artifice of academe which modernist critics spent the 20th century repudiating (while all the time building the new consensus which all the art schools parroted).

What of Bacon’s painting in themselves? Can Perl regard them without regard for artistic fashion, association of celebrity, “literary associations” (yes, the quotes mean I think it’s a meaningless term), and the image he has generated for himself of Bacon as some sort of fame-chasing charlatan?

“The paintings, however, are so bloodless that all they can possibly do is send you back to the story itself. There is nothing in the paintings themselves to hold you there. In Bacon’s work, content trumps form every time. The emotion is as formulaic and pre-digested as in any Victorian picture of a dying child.”

So that’s a no, then.

For myself, I knew nothing of Francis Bacon’s reputation when I first encountered his paintings. They hit me directly, and made me feel that the painter must be in sympathy with my own sense of the world. Looking back, I can see there was a certain adolescent appeal in that bleak, existentialist horror. That appeal remains, I admit, but the totalness of his commitment to the vision still convinces. The background colours suggesting sickly bodily fluids; the wrenched bits of meat, vaguely human, placed just-so in the middle of the scene; the hopeless faces, the drab domestic furnishings, the space separating all the forms – no one else does it like this. No one else shows the horror of life in all its ill-fitting, gawky, heartless, empty reality.

And this is no mere rotting shark, this is a creation of the artist’s own hands and heart. But his brush technique doesn’t relate him to any of the respectable movements of his time, and his use of pop materials isn’t poppy enough for him to get out through that escape route. So of course he’s not acceptable. But how could any living soul not be moved by the mortal passion play he enacts before us?

If you don’t get it, that’s fair enough. You are probably far too healthy and well-adjusted for this to make any sense to you. Bacon really isn’t meant for people constructing an analysis of the development of painting through the 20th century. He doesn’t fit. His misfortune is that he’s painting to communicate, not to fulfill his obligation to “the tradition that values the artist above the art”, whether that tradition is antique or modern. That’s why everything he does is “wrong”. And now he is not alive to defend it with his personal charm, Bacon’s work is becoming the ultimate “outside art”.