Mannerism is not just a triumph of manners
This page was originally a screed against Mannerism as I understood that art period from Robert Venturi's despicable book: "Complexity and contradiction in Architecture". I am reading Arnold Hauser's "Mannerism", and learning better.
The contents of this page will be replaced with something more intelligent and nuanced. In the meantime, what I previously wrote is below, and it still makes sense in terms of Mr. Venturi's lowbrow trashing of architecture and humanity. To paraphrase what General Douglas MacArthur said about Franklin Roosevelt: "Venturi is dead, a man who would never tell the truth if decorating a shed would do"
Mannerism is the great-granddaddy, and perhaps also the maraschino cherry, of post-modernism. Consider the facade at right. Do you really want to live in a palace where the front door is a frightening monster waiting like a venus flytrap, with wide open maw, for you to enter its stomach?
Here's the deeper problem: See a trick once and maybe it's cutsie. See it every day for the rest of your wretched life, and doesn't it quickly get boring? You've paid a lot of money for a one trick pony. It's so hyper-realistic, so hypertrophically detailed, that there's nothing left for the imagination (except, maybe, the prospect of being digested in its stomach, or imagining a fly crawling on its face and it not being able to swat it because it has no arms?). Contrast with modernist "white walls", onto which one can project anything, and change the show each time you see it → presuming, that is, you have an imagination and not just photoreceptors.
If I had a room stuffed with such teraomas, it would be almost impossible to find a fine small hand-craft ceramic, or even the Hope diamond, there, except that the diamond, like fool's gold, would glint in bright light, and attract flies. It's Where's Waldo even without any people to breathe down your neck. This, my reader, is the kind of crap self-styled "architect" Robert Venturi celebrates as the architectural Promised Land, in his infamous manifesto: "Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture". Das Arschloch des Abendlandes [The asshole of the Western World], some years before (POTUS №45) Donald J. Trump's Presidency!
At right is a paradigmatic example of decoration. It may antedate Mannerism, but, if yes, mannerist (and postmodernist) architects would celebrate it as visionary fenestration. It appears to be a non-load bearing replica of a lintel with a bas-relief image of a keystone, but there is no arch to support! If it really was a lintel, it would be weak in the middle or just have the keystone veneer stuck on its face. As much utility would be accomplished by embedding the keystone in an architect's forehead as a symbol that he or she or other has focal ("key") thoughts that abut on each side a wider contextual noematic horizon, what William James called "fringes". Or that inside the architect's brain case was material substance ("stone"). Alternatively, the architect could dress up as such a window for an AIA costume ball at the "Queen of Mean" Leona Helmsley's Palace Hotel. Or why not use this picture in the 2003 United States Department of Defense (DoD) Most Wanted Iraqis playing card deck, for the Joker? To decorate is to make a thing advertise it is something it is not: To decorate is to lie. Lie-di-da!
That is the kind of stuff I should have shown the admission folks at Harvard I had orgasms over, like Bernini's melodramatic Saint Teresa, or at least pledged allegiance to, to be considered possibly worthy of admission to their Master of Architecture program (1982), if I only also had freehand drawing skill so that I could generate more of it. Maybe one could have gone on from their M.Arch. program to get a Ph.D., aka: a Piled Higher and Deeper degree in decorating sheds.
I sought a place to think about the destiny of The West in material form; they wanted shed decorators. Aside: When I graduated prep school, the only student in my graduating class Harvard College admitted was a Varsity Lacrosse jock with middling academic record, neither the class math whiz who went to MIT, nor myself who went to Yale. Skill in head-butting, not using one's head, was apparently what Harvard wanted and got (I heard the kid lost his mind a few years later; both the math whiz and myself were, I believe, somewhat mentally ill, but he prospered at MIT, and I mucked thru somehow -- neither of us went belly up). Borrowing a trope from George Steiner: Damn them all.
Good manners are what?
In my experience of metabolizing in my social surround of origin ☢, "good manners" meant saving prigs from having to fess up that there was a big elephant in the middle of their small room. They did not like to be made uncomfortable by having to admit that they were living in their own skin and that their bodies had any emissions other than their pontifications. I presumem used chemical deodorants, who knows for who knows what reasons, but to me, they "smelled" bad, like their stupid ideations about Bible stories (Item: I interpret Paterfamilias Abraham, like Adolf Eichmann, as a self-styled low level employee who just followed orders).
Of course I had to be polite: , i.e., or else they would hurt me. Take away their power and they would all be like Baby Trump balloons punctured with a stiletto heel: Deflated gasbags. But they have power; their inflated self-images stay bloated pending a Kronstadt rebellion, in which, like the Medical officer who certified maggot infested meat fit for the sailors to eat in Sergei Eisenstein's film "The Battleship Potemkin", those whom they had "kept in their place" would put them in their place: at the bottom of the sea or, if inland, in the nearest municipal garbage dump. I find manners generally offensive and distasteful.
Back to the point: If a person cannot create anything, they can still find something to decorate. All you need is some lipstick, or a dunce cap (see right).
Mhat is "Mannerism" other than make-up: Postmodernism's celebration of decorating sheds. As I used to hear a fashionista artista tweet for everybody to worship her each Xmas: "Merry! Merry!" Merry merry what? Oncogenes? This was even in a way amusing, because she was flaunting her plumage just a few feet from another artist's last painting before dying of esophageal cancer. That is a painting I'd love to have, and which probably its current possessors by inheritance don't really "get" but it covers part of a wall and maybe it would fetch a few bucks. Giving credit where credit is due, some of these disembodiments playing roles play them to the end: Ronald Reagan was able to crack a joke on his way to the operating theater after having come within millimeters of meeting his maker due to John Hinkley's version of love conquers all. Good show, Ronnie!
If postmodernist architecture's Holy Grail is the decorated shed, I think Mannerism's heartthrob was: cherubs. Naked little male toddlers (also called: "Putti", like in putain?) often with their little asexual penises exposed (no pedaphilia allowed, peeping Tom (right)!) buzzing around on their aerodynamically unworkable wings like horseflies all over the place making merry, merry! Kitschy, kitschy, coo!
These little morsels are so pudgy they could presumably satisfy the fish-oil needs of sea lions. Give me a little Inuit wooden harpoon and I'll take a stab at one. Angelic foie gras anyone? Presumably eating cherubs is not a prion (aka: "mad cow disease") infection risk? Give me a break! N>o! I looked at more of this sicko stuff (Google Images search on: "mannerist cherubs") and found a gaping maw in a garden that looked like the entrance to hell, and then something else which I eventually perceptually reconfigured as a man's upside down body's head but at first looked like some grotesque sex organ (right). Postmodern stuff is decorous in comparison: the worst postmodernism does is make buildings that look like a tornado hit them!
An epitome of manners
Elongation of bodies was a hallmark of the Mannerist art [bowel?] movement. A different kind of elongation is an epitome of manners with a lower-case initial "m" character, both good manners and bad manners, depending upon the power status of the person exhibiting this behavioral form. When this behavioral form is exhibited by a center of self-certain egotism with social power (aka: Selflesslessly Concerned Authority Figure, or SCAF, for short; see: here)) actuaklizes it, it is good manners; but when a person outside the big egotism's (SCAF's) center of valuation does it, it is bad manners.
What are these marvelous manners? On the good manners side, it's when a manager holds a one hour all-hands meeting, and after an hour and a half is still elongating it nightmarishly further either with more last thoughts or else allowing every last person in attendance to vent their every last unimportant question at length for all to enjoy before anybody who does not pass out and faint can leave. ("Why can't he [or she] just get it over with so we can go back to work or go home if it's already past closing time, for God's sake?" "As I was saying....").
I>t's bad manners when guests at a party never leave even though the host/hostess wants to clean up the mess everybody has left or has to get up to go to work in the morning or whatever ("The invitation said 7 to 10. Can't these people take a hint that I am removing their dessert plates on which they've helped themselves to thirds already and I've taken their coats out of the closet and put them out in the front hall? God how I wish they would take a hint and leave!" "We just love your cheesecake! ....").
What to do about Doménikos Theotokópoulos (El Greco)?
El Greco seems a difficult case. His paintings are distorted, as are his contemporaries' paintings. But his contemporaries seem to have been seeking to discover new ways of contorting bodies to spice up their presumably otherwise banal lives (did holding these unnatural poses give them muscle cramps?), whereas El Greco may have been having trouble saving his soul.
Wikipedia says he had a son (whom he even took care of!), so he was apparently also not a perma-virgin irresponsible prig. Wikipedia also says his contemporaries did not understand his paintings, which makes me optimistic about him: Anybody fashionistas do not worship like [Andrew] warholes, prima facie, may not be all bad. I have taken to visiting local cemeteries lately.
Back to El Greco. How can one not love his "View of Toledo" (above), which does not look like a Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover of a cherubic little boy bending over for a hypodermic needle in his buttock? Or like a poolside table at an upscale swim and tennis club with a cocktail on it with a little matchstick and paper umbrella skewered through the cocktail's carcinogenic maraschino cherry, Yummie, Yummie! Yum! Yum!
A city on a hill
In El Greco's painting we see a city on a hill. Elsewhere here, I have mentioned my idea of Ronald (POTUS №40) Reagan's "shining city on a hill": a mound piled up of Newark New Jersey garbage, blended with the city's overflow untreated sewage, and stabilized with coagulated industrial effluents (from the Meadowlands?), where "intellectual curiosity" is not subsidized by tax dollars, there is a public university that teaches basic job skills, and only non-union labor, and for which Anselm Kiefer should be city planner, but which looks like The Truman Show town or Disneyland.
Contrast: "Art historians consider this painting to represent El Greco's idea that the world outside can be dangerous and how there are more powerful forces than we can sometimes see." (el-greco.org). It looks like a good place to live, but life is dangerous. This is not good manners but good sense. There is beauty and we suffer and die. In my opinion, even atheists should pray but not to what they do not believe in, and persons who have been hurt should curse G-d if they do believe.