Ephemeris by Marko Sijan

Therese Dreaming
Balthus, Thérèse rêvant. 1938. Oil on Canvas.

    The question of whether indifference is a divine trait baffles me. So does the one that asks if ‘representational’ art is dead; that, and certain past remarks made by ‘modernist’ painters about the nature of their work. Kandinsky believed that when starting a painting, the empty canvas is like the cosmos before the big bang, warring images in his mind forming “a clash of celestial spheres,” each brushstroke, in a garble of similes, pushing “like a European colonist into wild nature to shape it to his wishes.” Klee said a painter doesn’t fit himself to nature, human or otherwise, but to the contents of his paintbox, itself a chaotic cosmos of possibility from which the artist erects a universe. He deemed this “an altogether revolutionary new discovery.” Cézanne said his works aren’t representational (or imitative, both of whose meanings I understand to include drawing inspiration from life), but rather crafts its own reality independent of Reality. And his painting is mediated solely by his temperament. He and his art have no dependence on life. It follows then that his brushstrokes are divine. In my anaemic post-modernized mind, to imbue what you do for a living with divinity is to blow yourself out of proportion. D.H. Lawrence wrote of “all the emotional and aesthetic pabulum that lies in an artist’s soul.” Once upon a time artists used to rave about the inexhaustible depths of their souls. We don’t have souls! My inner demon scoffs. He also reminds me that Picasso said the artist “has a duty to be profoundly narcissistic,” that is, “to love beauty from the heart.” Love thyself, is that it? Or is it love the image you make of yourself as a reflection of your soul? Perhaps in university I read too much of the ‘po-mo’ 3-D’s—De Man, Deleuze and Derrida—for whom the meanings of words are arbitrary and indeterminate, so we might as well play with them as we do with ourselves. Can the crotch of a nubile girl incarnate the divine? Balthus enlarges my thoughts on this matter. He wanted “to make religious paintings without a religious subject,” as a form of prayer, a way “to forget one’s ego,” his mind and hands “nothing but machinery, machinery that listens for what one must do”—all to expose human beauty as it “emerges from the divine hand.” He may have done it (the 3-D’s would say ‘performed’ it) in Thérèse Dreaming: asleep she sits, hands on top of her head, which is turned from us, her profile aloof and unapproachable, legs open exposing a wedge of fresh panties … as if to say, I don’t mind at all whether you gaze at it, whether you feel aroused or repulsed, cast judgment on yourself or me. I’m perfectly indifferent. Her pose, inspired by the dream, seems in answer to a prayer for a glimpse of eternity without herself.