Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Were Cezanne's Apples Enough?

"Still Life With Apples" by Paul Cezanne (MoMA)
In his review of the show of “Cezanne Portraits” at the National Gallery, (“High Anxiety, The New Yorker, 4/9/118) Peter Schjeldahl cites a l929 essay by D.H. Lawrence which praises “Cezanne for establishing like no other artist a recognition that ‘matter actually exists,'” independent of human self-regard.” Sounds a little like the old paradigm of a branch dropping in the forest when no one is looking, doesn’t it? Schjeldahl goes on to remark that “Lawrence saw Cezanne as striving to objectify the ‘appleness'--the thing in itself--of people, too, yet without much success because, the writer decided, they were beyond his ken.” What would you prefer to paint a person or an apple? Most people don’t have a choice. But this whole question of what Schjeldahl refers to a “quiddity” or what the Kant termed “ding an sich” or noumenon rather than phenomenon places Cezanne right up against another philosophical issue. Ultimately, casting aside the question of people and things, the problem may go right back to Plato's Forms. It’s what the cave dweller wasn’t able to perceive when he saw only the shadows of reality on the wall. Maybe Cezanne was the ultimate Platonist and who cares if he didn’t do justice to humans, if he succeeded in taking his apples where angels feared to tread?

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