Pissarro’s Twist

Pissarro’s Twist The harvest season has arrived in 1892, and it is Haying Time in Éragny-sur-Oise (Fig. 1). Camille Pissarro, the ageing Impressionist of solid reputation now settled comfortably in a villa with gardens and meadow on the Grand Rue of the country village, walks out to the fields to witness the making of hay (‘witness’: the first word we will use to characterise Pissarro’s engagement but not the last). The scene is not one we might expect from such a title: not the swinging of the scythe, not the opening up of a fresh swath against a stand of grass still tall. Rather, Pissarro gives a view of the next stage in the reaping of fodder, when peasants fluff up and spread the felled stalks under the warm summer sun, lest rot invade the barn during the coming winter months. Turn it over, let it dry. Fig. 1. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Haying Time, 1892, oil on canvas, 66 x 81 cm. The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Bruce Borland, 1961.791. (Photo: The Art Institute of Chicago/Art Resource, NY). Fig. 1. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Haying Time, 1892, oil on canvas, 66 x 81 cm. The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Bruce Borland, 1961.791. (Photo: The Art Institute of Chicago/Art Resource, NY). Turn it over, let it dry: also an excellent description of Pissarro’s own artistic activity in the central third of the bottom portion of the canvas, a section visibly heavier with paint and more thoroughly worked than any other passage in the painting (Fig. 2). Pissarro had long ago refused the fastidiousness on display in the sad remnants of academic painting of his day, but his technique here also differs from the loose handling exhibited during his Impressionist years, where one stroke flicked quickly over another. In Haying Time, heavy strokes pile up, layer upon layer. The dollops of blue at left in the detail seem straightforward enough in their application, the purity of their hue indicating placement atop lower strata already dry and firm. Yet consider the greens and greys just above them and to the right, or the dirty yellows and greens in the wave of grass cresting just in front of the trough where the blues appear. In these passages, the practice recurring throughout the broad section of thick paint becomes especially evident. It is as if Pissarro pivoted his wrist each time he finished a stroke, causing the trailing strand of viscid medium to curl, like a final flourish of soft ice cream—but one that then hardens rather than melts. Turn it over, let it dry. Fig. 2. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Haying Time, 1892 [detail]. Fig. 2. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Haying Time, 1892 [detail]. A rhyming then, between the harvest itself and its capture on canvas. A visual metaphor linking fecund earth to fecund art. In one manner or another throughout his career, Pissarro had thus been proposing parallels between paints worked on canvas and crops worked in the fields whenever he used loose technique to depict agricultural subjects. This is fine and good: we are dealing with a rhetorical device, undoubtedly of utility to contemporary critics and later art historians alike. But what if, in some sense, it is actually true? Let us take seriously the possibility that the artist may have something deeply in common with the peasant, that the picture plane functions as a field. Paradoxically, if we do so, Pissarro in the end will manage an unexpected twist, to assume a form radically different from the human corporeality that the likeness with the peasant would imply. Pissarro has received less rigorous study than have most of the other canonical Impressionists. T.J. Clark’s painstaking examination of the Two Young Peasant Women of 1892, with its beautiful and sensitive account of Pissarro’s treatment of light and colour, is undoubtedly the most influential analysis of this phase of the artist’s career. As do I, Clark recognises that the mature Pissarro’s process operated in a largely subliminal manner: ‘[Technique and perception] are deeply embedded in looking and denoting and building oneself a painterly repertoire. They take time. They are only barely under the artist’s conscious control.’1 Clark’s project is then ‘to bring into focus … Pissarro’s politics and their effect on his art[,] … the way they disturbed the balance on which Pissarro’s working practice depended’ (104). He argues: ‘Two Young Peasant Women … open[ed] itself to the welter of ideological struggle. Certainly in a way that threatened its maker’s skills, and disturbed his normal economy of making’ (128). Historical analysis in Clark’s chapter thus takes the form of assessing how such external factors go about ‘forcing and altering’ established technique, for better or worse (104). My argument focuses instead on Pissarro’s procedure, Clark’s foundation taken as given, for the sake of questioning the dominant interpretation, at the time and since, of the thick brushstroke as a strong sign of artistic autonomous individuality. That art historical and critical approach is itself a powerful ideological formulation, with a history of its own. In my recent book Brushstroke and Emergence, I explore how artists—mind and body, person and process—might extend into the world.2 The nascent discipline of emergence explores the elaborate reciprocal interrelationships between enormously multiple but simple phenonema and complex single entities built out of them. Drawing from these insights, I maintain that Modernist artistic practice of the sort that relies on the visible brushstroke as a telling trace of autonomous individuality can better (or at least differently) be regarded as an intricate continuous network consisting of both neurons and small brushstrokes in constant interaction, rather than as a confrontation between two distinct entities: painter and canvas. In this article, somewhat a coda but also a reversal of that book, I should like to see how far we can follow Pissarro outwards in that direction, beyond the individual contained in its fleshy carapace. Whereas Brushstroke and Emergence makes a case for the artistic self passing through the body to colonise the canvas, ‘Pissarro’s Twist’ considers how the canvas may also be reaching back up the artist’s arm to lay claim to the self. These are not two different processes but one process viewed from two perspectives, akin to regarding evolution either as organisms using their genes to perpetuate the species or as genes using organisms to sustain the code. We can hear a tussle over the aptness of the metaphor associating Pissarro and the peasant in an oft-quoted exchange between a critic and the artist. Hugues Leroux, writing anonymously in the pages of La République française as he reviewed the eighth Impressionist exhibition in 1886, passed the following verdict: [Pissarro] lives, deep in the countryside of Normandy, on a farm that he tills himself, and that feeds him with the produce of the soil that he works. When the harvest has been good and the toil of the fields leaves him free time, Pissarro takes up his brushes, looks around him, and records on canvas the tough existence he leads himself, that of peasants and country life. Above all, he sacrifices nothing for ‘art’; never a compromise! Pissarro would never renounce a colour he caught a glimpse of in order to please an art dealer.3 The final lines disclose the purpose of the preceding biographical account. Needing to guard the painter from the noxious taint of established artistic convention, the critic situates the artist in a protected setting and in an unsophisticated class, far from the worldly exhibition halls of Paris. Pissarro himself voiced an objection to descriptions of this sort. Given a choice between considering himself a country rube and an artistic (and political) sophisticate, it is understandable that the painter opted for the latter. ‘While Kropotkin believes that one must live as a peasant in order properly to understand them’, Pissarro wrote in a letter from 1892 to critic and man of letters Octave Mirbeau (from whom we shall hear later), ‘it seems to me that one must be enthused by one’s subject to render it well; but is it really necessary to be a peasant? Let us be artists above all and we will have the ability to sense everything, even a landscape, without being a peasant.’4 Critic and artist both have their reasons for holding on to the biographical entity so. Like many who will follow them, they place value on the life of the artist, that endlessly available figure for both cause and referent that preserves meaning in painting once it has lost such pre-packaged truths as those provided by myth, religion, and history. Mirbeau whipped off the platitude in the catalogue essay for the posthumous retrospective of Pissarro in 1904: ‘Not only is [the exhibition] a precious aesthetic joy, but also a precious biographical account, a faithful and very clear summary … of the intellectual history of one of the purest of artists.’5Intellectuelle: a broader term in French than in English, more redolent of ‘life of the mind’ than ‘scholarly erudition’ (although for Mirbeau and his contemporaries, it is still mind as thoughts in the brain, a presupposition with which I shall soon take issue). In this regard, both men assume their places within the Impressionist moment (and within the broad arc of artistic Modernism), whereby painters are regarded as creative individuals experiencing sensations worthy of expression in paint, with the brushstroke serving as a privileged sign of the thoughts and feelings of the autonomous self.6 Accordingly, most of my conclusions will apply not just to Pissarro but to all Impressionists, indeed to all artists for whom the visible technique for making the image affirms the independence of artistic individuality. I choose Pissarro for my argument because the rhyming in his canvases of artistic creation and field work provides an attractive avenue away from the dominant interpretation of the relation between paint and the purportedly autonomous mind of the painter. However, Mirbeau’s notion of Pissarro’s interior ruminations as the key to his works (and, more generally, the dominant historical and critical treatment of Impressionist individuality) needlessly constrains his artistic activities within overly narrow bounds, or at least it misplaces emphasis. For surely a crucial aspect of painting, perhaps its origin and essence, lies not in the realm of thoughts in the head but in the material world of actions, the hand holding brush placing paint on canvas. ‘Pissarro’ designates a person but also a process. The former I cede to the critic; let us examine the nature of the latter (with Pissarro partially joining us: ‘Let us be artists above all …’). Whether or not Pissarro the person was a peasant, Pissarro the process, as we have already seen, executes of set of gestures akin to the movements of labourers in the fields. He acts on material stuff, piling it up, spreading it out, turning it over (‘acts on’: our second term for engagement). He performs with his brush what they do with their pitchforks. Accordingly, the woman in the foreground is more than a metaphorical figure for the artist—although she is that too (Fig. 2). She is also replicating his own actions, or he is replicating hers. The outcome for the matter acted on is much the same. The paint behind the depiction of the woman lies relatively flat and nondescript, much like the stalks matted to the ground by the passage of time. As the actual woman passes, moving backwards, the dried grass plumps up and takes on character as its rustling fragments shimmer in sunlight; likewise, Pissarro’s brushstrokes in front of the figure undulate and glisten with their added heft. Pissarro does what she did, only across a smaller surface. The woman’s body divides what the artist has made full from what he has not. It is still a metaphor, one could object: what the artist does is like what the peasant does but is not the same thing. However, modern neuroscience suggests that the two actions may be less differentiated then we might first assume. I am aware that by marshalling neuroscience for my argument I risk venturing into a methodological minefield, given the recent contentious practice of what John Onians has dubbed ‘neuroarthistory’.7 Consequently, I should take a moment to make clear the nature of my claims. I have no intention of resituating the source of artistic creativity from the realm of thought to electric firings of the brain as part of a ‘crude materialist theory of mind’, in the words of Matthew Rampley, who has penned an insightful analysis of the methodological turn to neuroscience.8 Nor shall I be describing how neural structures govern aesthetic reception, as David Friedberg has done.9 Nor shall I characterise brain architecture as a detour around consciousness that permits local environmental factors to determine the course of art history by imprinting themselves directly into plastic neural networks, in the manner of Onians’s neo-Tainean argument. Rather, I should like to use discoveries from neuroscience to break apart the supposed coherence and autonomy of the artistic self, which is both the effective and final cause of the Impressionist ideological formation of artistic individuality. Accordingly, I shall work towards accounting for the painter as a process fully embedded in its environment, rather than as a monad of a mind. So, again: two actions, by artist and peasant, that may be less differentiated then we might first assume. The artist at the edge of the field sees a movement, a woman picking stuff up, stirring it around, flipping it over. At that moment, modern neurologists with their fMRIs and PET machines would tell us, certain neurons are firing in the artist’s brain (to return for the moment to the head, although not to thoughts). Pissarro then takes his brush in hand and emulates that action: picking stuff up, stirring it around, flipping it over. When he thus acts, that same set of neurons, or some closely related ones, may well be lighting up. ‘There are neurons found in the monkey ventral premotor cortex’, philosopher Andy Clark tells us, summarising neuroscientific research that presumably applies equally well to Pissarro the primate, ‘that are action-oriented, context-dependent, and implicated in both self-initiated activity and passive perception. They are active both when the monkey observes a specific action … and when the monkey performs the same action.’10 It is not as if one part of the mind performs an action and another perceives it. Doing and seeing activate the same set of neurons. The existence of these mirror neurons, as they are called, draws the process called peasant and the process called Pissarro much closer together, diminishing the difference between what the former does in the world and the latter depicts in art. The labourer twists and turns to transform that flat stuff into this fluffy stuff, and so too does the artist. From a neurological point of view, Pissarro’s act of painting may be more than like raking hay; it could potentially be nearly the same thing as raking hay. None the less, there remains an issue of scale, of reach. The woman operates her whole body, acting on material at a certain remove. The artist moves his arm and his hand, exerting effort only on that part of his world kept up close. These are real differences, not to be glossed over. The neurological activity of pitching hay and painting pictures will never be identical. None the less, peasant and Pissarro each take pains to bring their efforts more in line with one another. Consider first the woman in the field. That is hay, over there, out of reach at the end of the pitchfork. Like landscape seen at a distance, grass on the ground would seem beyond the immediate human ambit; neuroscientists would call this ‘extrapersonal space’. In contradistinction, ‘peripersonal space’ consists of the area literally close at hand. This is the realm of the still life, not the landscape—of objects to be picked up and placed on a table, of paint and palette and canvas. Crucially, different neurons fire when an individual encounters each of the realms. Reporting research on the brains of macaque monkeys, neuropsychologist Tobias Schicke informs us: [One set of neurons] often respond to a visual stimulus only if it is no more than ∼30 cm [1 foot] away from the hand. These neurons therefore seem to represent only the space close around the body, the so-called ‘peripersonal’ or ‘near’ space. Furthermore, the visual RF [receptive field] of these neurons follows the hand when it is moved; in other words, visual stimuli near the hand are coded by these neurons with respect to the hand, not the eyes.11 If this is true of humans as well (and why would it not be?), it would seem that artist and raker exercise two distinct regions of their brain. However, the peasant holds a pitchfork, and that changes everything. Philosopher and polymath Michael Polanyi argues: ‘While we rely on a tool or a probe, these are not handled as external objects. … They remain necessarily on our side, … forming part of ourselves, the operating persons. We pour ourselves out into them and assimilate them as parts of our existence. We accept them existentially by dwelling in them.’12 Accordingly, when a peasant turns hay the pitchfork becomes part of her own corporeal self, and the hay becomes neurologically close. ‘By integrating the tool into a practical repertoire, we are able to remap our expectations of what we can do and so, in effect, we remap the body schema’, explains philosopher of mind Alva Noë. ‘Transformations of the body schema can bring about extensions of peripersonal into what was merely extrapersonal space. … The acquisition of tool-using skills has the effect of increasing the extent of peripersonal space. … What was far becomes near. … Insofar as I act in and feel with my extended body, my mind is extended too.’13 So Pissarro’s neurological activity may in fact come close to echoing that of the peasant, as both use tools at hand to operate within peripersonal space. And then there is what Pissarro does. As he paints, he takes the world afar and places it right there, present on the canvas at hand. He transforms the visual scintillations of summer across grass into the rippling corrugations of corpulent strokes. He recasts the smooth expanses of skin and blouse and apron into textured, tactile stucco. Look closely at the woman’s pitchfork as he paints it: one long beige streak for the shaft between the hands, a second mauve one for the head and the leftmost prong. These brushstrokes are not a paintbrush but as close as anything could hope to be: its direct product, the simpler, more proximate trope of metonymy in place of metaphor. When viewing Haying Time as a whole, Pissarro’s palpable impastos grasp out and pull forward what the landscape has on offer at ever increasing distances—fields, trees, skies (Pissarro’s always marvellous skies, slathered on and fussed over like thick, intractable icing). Pissarro reaches further than the peasant and draws things closer in, transmuting the wide world into the material stuff of peripersonal manipulation. Pissarro had not always brought distant things close in such a way. A half decade earlier, the pointillist technique that he encountered in the works of Georges-Pierre Seurat and Paul Signac caught his enthusiasm, and he began his own experiments with the division of tones into dots of bright colour. In such paintings as House of the Deaf Woman and the Belfry at Éragny of 1886 (identical in size to Haying Time), the artist abandoned any attempt to rhyme the remote material of the world to the proximate substance of paint (Fig. 3). Regard the treatment of the kneeling peasant—gathering fallen fruit in a basket, perhaps—situated quite deep in this pictorial space (Fig. 4). Countless dabs of paint cluster together to depict the scintillations of light reflecting off this woman’s white blouse and dark skirt. The collection of orange bits and even a dot or two of white smattered across the deep blue of the skirt might be depicting the glint of bright sunlight off dark fabric, or it may be a demonstration of the principle of simultaneous contrast held dear by the neo-Impressionists. In either case, these dots aspire to render purely optical phenomena, as if they were capturing the play of light rising like a phenomenal screen between us and that solid body working in the field. Fig. 3. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, House of the Deaf Woman and the Belfry at Éragny, 1886, oil on canvas, 65 x 81 cm. Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, Anonymous, 2002.76. (Photo: Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields). Fig. 3. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, House of the Deaf Woman and the Belfry at Éragny, 1886, oil on canvas, 65 x 81 cm. Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, Anonymous, 2002.76. (Photo: Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields). Fig. 4. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, House of the Deaf Woman and the Belfry at Éragny, 1886 [detail]. Fig. 4. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, House of the Deaf Woman and the Belfry at Éragny, 1886 [detail]. None the less, materiality does not vanish from this picture—as if it ever could. Instead, it finds different purchase. If the force of light has seemingly washed away the weightiness of the woman, the minute brushstrokes rendering those optical effects assume a heft of their own—inconsequential viewed one-by-one but of real substance when taken cumulatively. Such materiality belongs not to the fields and trees of this rural setting, which manifest their physicality in radically different forms than this, but to the painted surface of the picture itself. To the left of the peasant and a bit further down the canvas, beige dots arranged in lesser-than signs (<) peel themselves free from the representational task of depicting a tranche of sunlight receding horizontally into the depths of the field, to instead thrust themselves flat up against the vertical picture plane. Here, they join many other beige dabs swarming all around, visibly pushed by Pissarro’s paintbrush onto this surface—pushed, as it were, from the opposite direction than the light flowing from the world. A similar dynamic occurs at the top of the canvas, where blue dots depicting the colour of sky nudge past distant clouds to make themselves physically present as paint, at no greater remove from the artist than the reach of his bent arm. So the dots reside up close, on this stretch of canvas, safely within Pissarro’s peripersonal space. If they tell us anything about the world, they do so in an immaterial way and at a remove, having travelled as light from peasant and field and sky to eyes of the artist and from there down his arm to brush on canvas. The picture’s emphasis on optical sensation has the effect of exiling far away from the picture the solid stuff from which sensation arrives, all of it distanced in the realm of the extrapersonal. We can see it happening in the composition of House of the Deaf Woman: a yawning gap of emptiness, the whole foreground of the picture separates us from the action happening way over there. Countless landscapes by Seurat and Signac exhibit this same vacated foreground, this insistence that the material of the world, unlike the optical effects it generates, is always not here but rather over there. A neo-Impressionist still life, with everything in reach, is an oxymoron. I can think of only a handful of examples, all of them weak. Moreover, Pissarro’s activity of thrusting dots outwards in no manner resembles the peasant’s toil of gathering fruit inwards. We are not all creatures inhabiting and moving together in the same world. Perhaps because of this fundamental alienation separating the artist from his fellow residents of the French countryside, Pissarro’s enthusiasm for neo-Impressionism soon waned. He returned to the comforts of peripersonal space where everything was at hand, where painting and peasant alike could turn it over and let it dry. As Pissarro explained in a letter to painter and critic Henry van de Velde in 1896, he had ‘abandoned’ Neo-Impressionism in order to ‘find again that which I have lost, having ascertained the impossibility of following my ever-so-fugitive sensations, and consequently of expressing life and movement’.14 For an artist who spent the preponderance of his career in the realm of physical proximity, neo-Impressionism was an anomalous excursion into material representation of optical distance. Indeed, paintings from before the pointillist sabbatical share with Haying Time a preference for the peripersonal. Nowhere, perhaps, is the collapse of far into near more manifest than in Pissarro’s painted palette from around 1878 (Fig. 5). Palettes are not supposed to present images. The first purpose of a palette should be to serve as a portable storage device, a place where, in the modern age of tin tubes, the artist can squeeze out prepared globs of pure colour before beginning to paint. There they are, along the top edge of Pissarro’s board: nearly pristine red and yellow, a rather dirtied white. These piles of pigment in glistening oil ostensibly do not represent the world; they are of the world, the raw materials from which representations will be crafted. Further down on this board, however, a picture anomalously fills the vast middle of the palette, the depiction of an agricultural scene with its sky pushing upward towards the globs. In such a setting, the yellow orb floating above patches of blue sky and white cloud cannot help but become the likeness of the sun. Moreover, late in the game Pissarro flicked little daubs of white over this patch of yellow, wet on dry, passing over like so many small cumuli. Conversely, the three heaviest clouds in a line, centred above the peasant standing on the wagon’s thill (side shaft) hardly distinguish their massing of white paint from the pile of white paint in the upper right corner. Here and there, Pissarro painted a cloud or squeezed out a splotch in much the same manner. Fig. 5. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Artist’s Palette with a Landscape, c. 1878, oil on panel, 24 x 35 cm. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, 1955.827. (Photo: Clark Art Institute, Michael Agee). Fig. 5. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Artist’s Palette with a Landscape, c. 1878, oil on panel, 24 x 35 cm. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, 1955.827. (Photo: Clark Art Institute, Michael Agee). The second purpose of a palette is to provide a surface on which the artist is able to mix colours. We can witness many examples of this practice on Pissarro’s board. At the far left edge, featherings of white and yellow-green surround a spot of deep purple, but the accumulation has also transfigured into a middleground tree of the same species as its background brethren (Fig. 6). Higher up, dabs of yellow and white pull off from the right side of the repository of glistening black near the corner. Working left to right from here we can almost read a narrative of artistic process. Pissarro pokes into the black blob the tip of his brush already charged with colours picked up from the patches of yellow and white way over on the right side, then ventures a first exploratory swipe of the mix, a gesture that also lessens the unmanageable surfeit of the brush’s load. Scanning right, we next encounter a similar but earlier admixture resulting in greys laid on by multiple passes to slough off excess, then a thinner sweep of grey with some remnants of yellow along for the ride, then finally the thinnest of the greys, again with a bit of yellow, partially covered by leftward pulls off the red. Acts of preparation, all. Yet, countless brushstrokes throughout that canvas that possess the same character and heft as these preliminary dabs also take up representational chores. You can see them in the yellow-greens along the bottom edge waving like grass, or in the corner accumulating to propose a bush, at the very heart of which we can discern a squeezed-out glob of green. Or have a look at the upper right, where the branches of a tree flutter against sky and cloud, only eventually to meld into the mass of dirtied white. For that matter, we can hardly determine where clouds behind the tree cease and glob begins. Fig. 6. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Artist’s Palette with a Landscape, c. 1878 [detail]. Fig. 6. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Artist’s Palette with a Landscape, c. 1878 [detail]. So, Pissarro has pulled this rural setting in close to himself, out of the extrapersonal space of the landscape and into the peripersonal space of his own artistic tools at hand. It is as if this agricultural scene is nothing more than the serendipitous by-product of the painter’s proximate mixing of pigments. None the less, our analysis so far has only been gnawing at the edges. Setting itself up in contrast to the periphery, the central vignette would seem to be able to wrest itself at least partially free from the processes of painting, escaping back into the extrapersonal space of its own slice of storytelling (Fig. 7). Fig. 7. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Artist’s Palette with a Landscape, c. 1878 [detail]. Fig. 7. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Artist’s Palette with a Landscape, c. 1878 [detail]. Let us recapitulate the action. A horse with blinders in harness waits to pull its load. A pair of labourers trouble themselves with the fittings; the man has climbed high on the thills to make an adjustment. A black wagon follows, its leading panel and its front wheel—well, the front half of a front wheel … Hold on, what has happened here? Left to right the depiction just peters out, interrupted by a second circular, or rather ovoid shape. The palette’s thumbhole disrupts the illusion, breaking in on the scene. Or maybe it does not entirely; maybe it simultaneously allows Pissarro to contribute a part of himself to the tale. When mounted on the wall as if it were an actual painting, the palette is missing one crucial element present during its making: Pissarro’s thumb. I should like to imagine the artist’s digit sticking up nearly vertical, jutting above the wagon’s sideboard. In that case, the peasant has a companion, his efforts with the wagon have a purpose, because a third figure, fleshy and corpulent, has arrived to fill the wagon’s box—fill in both senses: occupy its space, and play the role of a farmer loading the vehicle full of bales for transport. Pissarro himself is as present in the agricultural scene as is the labourer bent over to the left. However, this positioning of the thumb cannot be correct, for were Pissarro to be holding the palette away from his body in such a manner, his right thumb would be entering the scene while his left hand limned the image—and Pissarro was no southpaw. A self-portrait from 1897–8 of the artist at work clarifies his actual pose (Fig. 8). In this image reversed by the mirror into which he gazed, Pissarro does not hold the palette out from himself. Rather, he tucks it in tight to his body, its short length supported by his forearm while his left thumb sticks through the hole. With the painted palette, it occupies the area at about four o’clock where the dark strokes surrounding the opening are thinnest. The thumb now completes the story in a different manner, no longer vertical humanoid but instead horizontal extension of the wagon, no longer actor but thing acted on. Or perhaps the narrative runs in the other direction now. Outward from the thumb—not just at hand to the artist but of his hand, proprioceptically present to him—the painter’s own dark brushstrokes radiate. Without the thumb, these strokes may appear the leaves of a bush, but with it present (in Pissarro’s actuality or in our imagination) they endure as traces of what this thumb’s dextral partner and its accompanying fingers holding a brush can do. They can, for instance, encroach on depicted things, overwhelm them, fasten onto them so that they remain near rather than slipping into the distance. They eat away at the better half of the wheel, and splash over to the shadow where the thills meet the wagon’s box. Were the texture more similar, they might have managed outposts as far out as the man’s shadow, or the horse’s, or the horse’s yoke. This scene cannot break free from the artist’s clutches, from his peripersonal range. Rather, it becomes the backward extension of his own body part. Indeed, were we to imagine a slightly cocked wrist beneath this board tucked against the body, then the main elements of the scene—thumb to box to peasants to horse to horse’s shadow to bush in the corner—follow almost exactly the trajectory of Pissarro’s own covered forearm. Fig. 8. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Self-Portrait, 1897–8, oil on canvas, 75 x 53 cm. Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection, 185.R.44. Fig. 8. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Self-Portrait, 1897–8, oil on canvas, 75 x 53 cm. Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection, 185.R.44. In painting this small palette, Pissarro thus held close to himself the entire scene as well as the means that made it. He did not even need to reach out from his own body, as he would have when placing brushstrokes on a canvas mounted on an easel. He looked down, not out. He practically folded back on himself, right arm crossing over left in near embrace, but for the intervening board painting along his own limb. The act is almost as intimate as a caress of the self.15 In fact, the palette may become an integral part of Pissarro’s own person. Philosopher of mind Andy Clark stands as perhaps the leading proponent of the idea that the ‘extended mind’ breaks out of its cranial shell to occupy not just the body but also the surrounding world. Clark argues: ‘The actual local operations that realize certain forms of human cognizing include inextricable tangles of feedback, feed-forward, and feed-around loops: loops that promiscuously criss-cross the boundaries of brain, body, and world. The local mechanisms of mind … are not all in the head. Cognition leaks out into body and world.’16 In a now canonical article that Clark wrote with David Chalmers, the authors illustrate the point by maintaining the impossibility of distinguishing meaningfully between a woman relying on memory and a mentally impaired man using written notes during the cognitive operation of navigating the streets of New York.17 In each case, the person gets from here to there by pulling information into consciousness, with the storage medium in each case functioning as an integral part of the multifaceted mind, irrespective of its physical location. Cognition of this dynamic sort does not occur only within the human shell. As with thoughts, so with actions. While a painter such as Pissarro may well consciously plan out his overall composition and theme, when it comes to the sort of small-scale habitual behaviours of mixing and apply paints such as we see on the palette, artistic thinking happens directly on the surface itself. About Gustave Courbet, I wrote in Brushstroke and Emergence: He does not, before he acts, concoct a mental representation of how he will position his thumb in relation to his fingers, or how he will pivot his wrist or bend his elbow, or how he will swing left hand, holding the palette, toward right, holding the brush. Of course, he does ponder his next steps (neurons firing away in the brain), but those deliberations probably take the form of thoughts such as ‘That area of water is getting too dark,’ or ‘I like that texture enough to let it expand leftward,’ and then the automatic protocols for lightening or stippling activate and hands execute, even as mind may move on to its next consideration.18 With habits and procedures thus engrained at the level of muscle memory, with individual brushstrokes finding their place in large part owing to how the hand and brush adjust to the local conditions into which they enter as they near the canvas, we can imagine agency not in the brain, nor even in the body but resident on the painted surface where artistic mind—something other than thought—manifests itself. I have argued in Brushstroke and Emergence (the first paragraph about Courbet, the second about Georges Seurat): The earlier brushstrokes stand as a record for ready reference of decisions reached in previous cycles of the ongoing operation. The latest application acts on the earlier ones by revising them or even covering them up, but the earlier ones also act on the latest by prompting from it an immediate response to the proximate environment. … Each spot of intense chroma hops from palette to tip of the brush; then, as it nears the surface of the canvas, it twitches left or right, up or down, picking up momentum or slowing down, in response to the … demands placed on it by its previous mates who had recently completed the same journey. Without conscious thought directing it, a patch of white flattens out and loses its distinguishing edges to render a girl’s dress; a spot of purple elongates into a streak to join the flow already gushing down the top-hatted man’s sleeve.19 In relation to the activity of placing paints on surface in the manner of Courbet, Seurat, or Pissarro, Andy Clark’s account would seem entirely apposite: ‘Certain aspects of the external word … may be so integral to our cognitive routines as to count as part of the cognitive machinery itself.’20 Pissarro folded in on himself, painting his palette as if it were his arm, confusing the means of representation with its ends; Pissarro-and-palette, as a singular entity, embodies an extreme instance of the artistic mind extending out into body and tools. But the conclusion holds as well for his easel paintings, such as Haying Time (Fig. 1). Especially in the middle section of the bottom third of the canvas but to a lesser extent throughout, Pissarro piled on his paint and mixed his pigments and turned them with a twist of his wrist as part of an ongoing process realised right here, not first conceived elsewhere and then transposed onto the surface. Mind manifest here, not making its trace manifest from somewhere over there. There is no intermediating process of transduction between discrete mind and matter, distanced from each other by such translation from one Cartesian category to another. The admixtures of colour, the textures of field and woman and sky are all integral, non-derivative aspects of Pissarro’s artistic cognition and execution. None the less, a counterforce may also exert itself here, just as it does on the painted palette. In this field—field of hay, field of art—the mind of Pissarro may reside, but other humans also barge in to assert their place, on this surface and in this space. One, two, three, four: each depicted labourer who turns hay confronts the viewer with the potential for a consciousness of his or her own. Pissarro as process risks bumping up against other minds, other thoughts, other activities not determined by itself. Just as a startling encounter with human eyes in our own visual field instantly forces us to concede the existence of a consciousness of inscrutable psychic depth other than our own (think of the real eyes peering through cut-outs from a portrait in a haunted house, or Bruno at the tennis match in Strangers on a Train of 1951), so too the human figures in Haying Time threaten to rent the canvas, as if piercing through this peripersonal surface to reveal extrapersonal people afar. The woman in the foreground who rhetorically figures the artist exemplifies the contradiction at the heart of every such metaphor: as something like another, it is both similar to and distinct from it. Labourer as Pissarro, then; but also labourer as not Pissarro, beyond his ambit, over there. However, we need to remain wary of imposing our own visual habits on perceptions from the past. Although Pissarro painted Haying Time close to the centenary of the formulation and wide dissemination of the French tenets of liberté, égalité, fraternité, we today may none the less be more prone than viewers at the end of the nineteenth century to acknowledge the universal general equivalence of independent human souls. The essence of peasants, to many such observers, would have placed them as being profoundly of the earth. They are integral to the land, not actors on it. Just listen to the critics. Gustave Geffroy, writing about the Pissarro retrospective at Galerie Durand-Ruel in 1892, gave himself over fully to the georgic: ‘The beings that live in this landscape have been preserved in their permanent place.’ (‘Landscape’: a productive conflation of peasants in the field with their depiction in paint, since the term names both a vista and a format of canvas.) ‘There is an accord of lines and colours between these people, these animals and the setting of this greenery and these skies. It is an intimacy of soil, atmosphere, beasts, and man.’21 So too Mirbeau embraced the myth, writing that same year: ‘Even when [Pissarro] paints figures, scenes from rustic life, man is always situated in the vast telluric harmony, reduced to his function as a human plant’ (‘in some sense melted into the earth’, he had added in a different wording of the phrase from a year before).22 Mirbeau did so again in the catalogue introduction to the artist’s posthumous exhibition in 1904: ‘These are … man and beast such as they live in nature, subordinated to it, a bit lost in it, a bit overwhelmed by its indifferent enormity and always remaining in their place, in their function, in the universal harmony.’23 Just as critics dissolve peasants into their rustic setting, Pissarro merged their bodies into his landscapes. We see no faces, no eyes. Witness the way in which the texture that Pissarro gives to the woman’s apron and blouse resembles the coarseness of surrounding field, or how the angle at which he tips her head, blank save for a streak of sunlight illuminating its left edge, replicates the diagonals of the mauve strokes lining up to the left and right of it (Fig. 2). Fittingly, Mirbeau’s rhetorical flourish as he neared his conclusion in 1904 leaves ambiguous whether the peasants subsumed themselves to the fullness of nature or that of art: ‘The particular fact, the incident, the individual, only occupy, in the compositions of Camille Pissarro, strictly the place that they must occupy, in the ensembles that mostly encompass them. The eye of the artist, like the thought of the thinker, discover the large aspects of things, the totalities’ (8). Far from positioning peasants apart from the landscape in which they work, Pissarro makes them a part of it. How, then do the labourers exist within their georgic setting? If they are so thoroughly subordinated to it, why can we discern their presence at all? Surely they must manifest their presence in some manner. Pissarro provides an answer not through the woman in the foreground but by means of the tiny male figure, only a bit more than two inches in height, positioned in the distant middleground behind her (Fig. 9). (It was this little fellow, not his larger companion to the right, who first gave me a poke and insisted I attend to this canvas.) The painter renders this faceless man with just a handful of strokes, the simplifying rapidity of his technique especially evident in the footless legs. Although this fellow clothes are darker than his setting, his bulk—or rather, his lack of it—verges on the diaphanous. We can see the thicker strokes that depict the field preceding the figure’s placement continue their flow beneath his form: at the crown of the hat, and the left shoulder, and all along the right arm, above all in the right thigh and left shin. None the less, this mere apparition manages to act. He holds a pitchfork, heavier in paint by far than his own wispiness, a tool that moments earlier he must have thrust forwards to pick up a huge clump of hay. That grassy mass, however, never distinguishes itself strongly from the surrounding meadow. It consists of the same colours as the stalks still lying on the ground: more blues and mauves than the patches immediately above and below but colours plentiful enough in a wide band extending right and left. So too its weight and texture match the brushstrokes that surround. What demarcates this clump, what makes it visible, is instead a twist. The peasant gathers the stalks together by swirling them around, like spaghetti on a fork, after which he will place them down again. He registers his presence by accomplishing this action. Turn it over, let it dry. Fig. 9. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Haying Time, 1892 [detail]. Fig. 9. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Haying Time, 1892 [detail]. But that is not quite right, because it is not the peasant that pivots the mass thus. It is Pissarro. Pissarro holds a brush—as with the foreground woman, evoked metonymically by the handle of the man’s pitchfork, here abbreviated to a single thick bead of paint. Pissarro reaches forward towards his canvas; he performs a twist. We can all but see him holding a relatively large brush, with its bristles in a circle like a shaving brush, placing it on the wet surface, and rotating his wrist. (On closer examination, actual execution was surely different, but such is the lasting impression that this small patch conveys.) Pissarro the process manifests itself on canvas as this turn, literal and figurative. By now the tropes abound, so let us inventory them. Pissarro is like the peasant in his rural residency and rustic simplicity: metaphor. The artist’s brushstroke leaves its most patent trace in handles of the pitchforks: metonymy. The peasant is part of his georgic setting: synecdoche. The palette and even the canvas are part of the artist’s mind: again, synecdoche. We can hardly avoid activating another metaphor—a meta-metaphor, actually—by drawing the obvious parallel: that the artist is in his picture like the peasant is amid his hay. Pissarro makes his presence known when he twists within his field of painting (‘twists within’: our third and final term for engagement). If the picture’s surface is part of the artist’s mind, if the twist within it is that mind’s manifestation in paint, then it would be fair to ask: which part of mind is it? The philosophers of mind have a ready answer: it is an extension. Feedback loops with the body and the world, by Andy Clark’s lights, ‘extend … the machinery of the mind out into the world. … Such cycles supersize the mind’.24 Alva Noë explicitly agrees with Clark, describing objects caught up in cognition ‘as belonging to my mind’.25 These accounts, however, suffer from what we might call craniocentrism. They beg the question by presuming that mind and cognition start in the brain and build outwards out from there. They conflate the core of the mind with the core of the self. We can hardly blame the philosophers: they are in the business of thinking, so naturally they centre themselves in their thoughts. But painters are not philosophers. Their principal task is not to think but to act. To act in a certain manner on a certain type of picture plane. The centre of painter as process is not in the head but on the canvas, where thick paints spread themselves out across a stretched sheet of coarse cloth. Let us imagine, then, Pissarro as existing principal as the turnings and drying on that surface, a process out of which extends brush, and arm, and brain, and mind. Let us imagine Pissarro manifest not in the material of paint so much as a disturbance within it. As turbulence. Returning to our tiny man gathering hay, we can posit one final trope: irony, played out left to right. Pissarro is not a peasant; he is not even a man. Rather than being figured in the metaphoric likeness to the left, Pissarro as process presents itself, makes itself present, in the twist of paint to the right. That swivel is even more immediate than a self-portrait, because, as a likeness, a portrait is but a copy of an original existing elsewhere. In contrast, this swirl is Pissarro right here. This is the essence of Pissarro as process, irrespective of the fact that that process may need to extend itself up some proximate arm into Pissarro the person, that peripheral thing that the twist needs to realise itself on canvas as action, not thought.26 ‘Twisting within’ rather than ‘acting on’. I should like to propose this description as a salubrious correction to many art historical approaches that place the artist outside the work, a person preceding a process. Whether the approach is biographical, whereby the painter expresses himself on canvas, or social-historical, whereby the artist records and interprets his surrounding context, or neo-formal, whereby the visual semiotician executes his clever rhetorical ploys, the picture stands principally as a record of artistic intent formulated elsewhere, in the head of a creature. Such a displacement both discounts the agency of art itself (including its ability to act on the artist), and freezes an active operation into the stiff material of dried paint. In contrast, art as turbulence that disrupts the regular flow of the expected, art as a twist within an otherwise isotropic field, allows us a perception of non-personified painting as embedded activity, present here and now on canvas. Even in a literal sense, such twists are not limited to one small patch in a painting by Pissarro (in a figurative sense, twists within are everywhere). Consider Paul Cézanne’s Sous-Bois of around 1894, a painting that tasked me until Haying Time explained to me how it works (Fig. 10). The canvas presents a largely featureless forest glade, without woodsmen, without even a looming Mont Sainte-Victoire in the distance (unless that is its extreme left flank glimpsed through the foliage). Yet the picture is seething with action. A halo of greenery just above centre, crossed by branches in an X, demands our attention, and merits a closer look (Fig. 11). Like the force from an explosion, the strokes radiate out from the X in virtually all directions. A trunk to the left bends before the blast; but its curvature also suggests a different flow of movement, in circles around the centre. And look: over on the right side of the area of radiance, a whole set of brushstrokes stream in arcs, running from about one o’clock to five o’clock, like grooves on a shattered LP. Returning to the green halo, we can notice that the radii are not actually straight: especially around ten o’clock they bow a bit, with their leading curved edges inclined downwards, while their peripheral tails bend towards the right. It is as if a circle of canvas about the size of salad plate twisted itself counterclockwise; the circumferential lines to the right register the resulting warp. A similar twist may also be occurring in the lower left corner of the painting, seemingly clockwise this time judging from a few curved strokes at the right edge of the area of disturbance and an extra tail of green pushing left on a patch just above its centre. In both cases, the distortions of the surface seem to release enormous energy pent up in the brushstrokes as they swirl madly around the two vortices. This, I would maintain, is the Cézanne that counts: not the erstwhile Impressionist repairing to Aix but the turbulence on the surface bringing curvature to space. Fig. 10. View largeDownload slide Paul Cézanne, Sous-Bois, c. 1894, oil on canvas, 116 x 81 cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Wallis Foundation Fund in memory of Hal B. Wallis, AC1992.161.1. (Photo: Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Fig. 10. View largeDownload slide Paul Cézanne, Sous-Bois, c. 1894, oil on canvas, 116 x 81 cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Wallis Foundation Fund in memory of Hal B. Wallis, AC1992.161.1. (Photo: Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Fig. 11. View largeDownload slide Paul Cézanne, Sous-Bois, c. 1894 [detail]. Fig. 11. View largeDownload slide Paul Cézanne, Sous-Bois, c. 1894 [detail]. A forkful of hay, spatial contortions among the trees. These are not rhetorical tropes turned by painters on the scenes they observe and record. Rather, the visual tropes are process turning itself into existence. They manifest, not represent, artistic activity not as a thing (conveniently personified by the painter, who is constantly called onto the stage of art history and criticism for need of a cause) but as a set of deformations, of ripples that stir up the antecedent ambience of a given environment. We cannot fetishise the Impressionist brushstroke as a simple trace and affirmation of a given independent individual. These processes are fully embedded in the world. And is this approach not also a salubrious recasting of human existence itself? We are all twisting within our settings, not acting on them from without. Similar to the peasant as the turning of the hay and the artist as the turning of the paint, humans manifest themselves as bits of turbulence in reality’s flow, each individual a disturbance that sends out a ripple or two that might subsequently alter (a little or a lot) the wakes a few others are cutting, or that are cutting them, into the world. Footnotes 1 T.J. Clark, ‘We Field-Women’ [chapter 2], Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), p. 104. 2 James D. Herbert, Brushstroke and Emergence: Courbet, Impressionism, Picasso (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015). 3 [Hugues Leroux], ‘L’Exposition des impressionnistes,’ La République française, 17 May 1886; reproduced in Ruth Berson (ed.), The New Painting: Impressionism 1884–1886: Documentation, 2 vols. (San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums, 1996), p. 1: 224. Here and below all translations are my own. 4 Janine Bailly-Herzberg (ed.), Correspondance de Camille Pissarro, 5 vols. (Paris: Éditions du Valhermeil, 1980–91), p. 3:217. 5 Octave Mirbeau, ‘Camille Pissarro’ [preface], Catalogue de l’exposition de l’œuvre de Camille Pissarro (Paris: Galeries Durand-Ruel, 1904), p. 5. Lack of grammatical parallel in the original. 6 I address this ideological formation of artistic individuality in Brushstroke and Emergence. 7 John Onians, Neuroarthistory: From Aristotle and Pliny to Baxandall and Zeki (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008). 8 Matthew Rampley, ‘Brains, Caves, and Phalanxes: Neuroaesthetics and Neuroarthistory’ [chapter 3], The Seductions of Darwin: Art, Evolution, Neuroscience (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2017). 9 Art historian Friedberg worked with neuroscientist Vittorio Gallese. David Friedberg and Vittorio Gallese, ‘Motion, Emotion and Empathy in Esthetic Experience’, Trends in Cognitive Science, vol. 11, no. 5, March 2007, pp. 197–203. 10 Andy Clark, ‘Where Brain, Body, and World Collide’, Daedalus, vol. 127, no. 2, Spring 1998, p. 267. Clark cites Giacomo Rizzolatti, Luciano Fadiga, Vittorio Gallese, and Leonardo Fogassi; ‘Premotor Cortex and the Recognition of Motor Actions’, Cognitive Brain Research, vol. 3, no. 2, March 1996, pp. 131–41. The abstract of that article begins: ‘In area F5 of the monkey premotor cortex there are neurons that discharge both when the monkey performs an action and when he observes a similar action made by another monkey or by the experimenter.’ The passage I quote from Clark continues ‘where sameness implies not mere grasping but the grasping of a food item’, but the source article distinguishes between empty grasping and food grasping, not between food grasping and grasping some other object. Analogically, whether Pissarro’s perception matches the peasant’s depends not on whether hay or paint is being moved but simply on whether material of some sort or another is being moved. 11 Tobias Schicke, ‘Human Peripersonal Space: Evidence from Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging’, The Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 27, no. 14, 4 April 2007, p. 3616. 12 Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, rev. ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1964 [1st ed. 1958]), p. 59. 13 Alva Noë, Out of our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness (New York: Hill and Wang, 2009), p. 80. 14 Bailly-Herzberg (ed.), Correspondance de Camille Pissarro, p. 4:180. 15 Here my argument somewhat resembles Michael Fried’s account of how Gustave Courbet, in works such as Man with the Leather Belt of 1845–6 and The Painter’s Studio of 1854–85, ‘translate[s] himself bodily into the painting’. While both Fried and I should have Courbet being ‘absorbed’ into the canvases (a key concept for Fried), we should emphasise different actors in the process. In essence, whereas Fried would have Courbet the man pushing his corporeal presence into the pictures (or, in his own words, ‘reconstitute within the painting his absorption in his live bodily being’), I should have Courbet the process pulling the person into itself. Moreover, whereas Fried builds his case largely around themes and composition, I am relying more on analysis of technique. A concise presentation of Fried’s argument appears in Michael Fried, ‘Representing Representation: On the Central Group in Courbet’s “Studio”’, Art in America, vol. 69, no. 7, September 1981, pp. 127–33, 168–73; with a fuller account published in Michael Fried, Courbet’s Realism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990). The passages I quote appear on pages 133 and 168 of the article. 16 Andy Clark, Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. xxviii. 17 Andy Clark and David Chalmers, ‘The Extended Mind’, Analysis, vol. 58, no. 1, January 1998, pp. 7–19. Clark includes this article as an appendix to Supersizing the Mind. 18 Herbert, Brushstroke and Emergence, p. 17; earlier in James D. Herbert, ‘Courbet, Incommensurate and Emergent’, Critical Inquiry, vol. 40, no. 2, Winter 2014, p. 347. 19 Herbert, Brushstroke and Emergence, pp. 18, 102; Herbert, ‘Courbet, Incommensurate and Emergent’, p. 348. 20 Clark, ‘Where Brain, Body, and World Collide’, p. 274; italics in the original. 21 Gustave Geffroy, ‘Chronique artistique: L’exposition de Camille Pissarro’, La Justice, 2 February 1892. 22 Octave Mirbeau, ‘Camille Pissarro’, Le Figaro, 1 February 1892; Octave Mirbeau, ‘Camille Pissarro’, L’Art dans les deux mondes, no. 8, 10 January 1891, p. 84. 23 Mirbeau, ‘Camille Pissarro’ [preface], Catalogue … de Camille Pissarro, p. 2. 24 Clark, Supersizing the Mind, p. xxvi. 25 Noë, Out of Our Heads, p. 82. 26 This description of paint as an actor and man as something acted on resonates with ideas developed by sociologist Bruno Latour and others that have become known as actor–network theory. See, for instance, Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory [sic] (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), which has as the subtitle of its third chapter, ‘Objects Too Have Agency’. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Oxford Art Journal Oxford University Press

Pissarro’s Twist

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Oxford University Press
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© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved
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0142-6540
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1741-7287
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10.1093/oxartj/kcx041
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Abstract

The harvest season has arrived in 1892, and it is Haying Time in Éragny-sur-Oise (Fig. 1). Camille Pissarro, the ageing Impressionist of solid reputation now settled comfortably in a villa with gardens and meadow on the Grand Rue of the country village, walks out to the fields to witness the making of hay (‘witness’: the first word we will use to characterise Pissarro’s engagement but not the last). The scene is not one we might expect from such a title: not the swinging of the scythe, not the opening up of a fresh swath against a stand of grass still tall. Rather, Pissarro gives a view of the next stage in the reaping of fodder, when peasants fluff up and spread the felled stalks under the warm summer sun, lest rot invade the barn during the coming winter months. Turn it over, let it dry. Fig. 1. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Haying Time, 1892, oil on canvas, 66 x 81 cm. The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Bruce Borland, 1961.791. (Photo: The Art Institute of Chicago/Art Resource, NY). Fig. 1. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Haying Time, 1892, oil on canvas, 66 x 81 cm. The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Bruce Borland, 1961.791. (Photo: The Art Institute of Chicago/Art Resource, NY). Turn it over, let it dry: also an excellent description of Pissarro’s own artistic activity in the central third of the bottom portion of the canvas, a section visibly heavier with paint and more thoroughly worked than any other passage in the painting (Fig. 2). Pissarro had long ago refused the fastidiousness on display in the sad remnants of academic painting of his day, but his technique here also differs from the loose handling exhibited during his Impressionist years, where one stroke flicked quickly over another. In Haying Time, heavy strokes pile up, layer upon layer. The dollops of blue at left in the detail seem straightforward enough in their application, the purity of their hue indicating placement atop lower strata already dry and firm. Yet consider the greens and greys just above them and to the right, or the dirty yellows and greens in the wave of grass cresting just in front of the trough where the blues appear. In these passages, the practice recurring throughout the broad section of thick paint becomes especially evident. It is as if Pissarro pivoted his wrist each time he finished a stroke, causing the trailing strand of viscid medium to curl, like a final flourish of soft ice cream—but one that then hardens rather than melts. Turn it over, let it dry. Fig. 2. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Haying Time, 1892 [detail]. Fig. 2. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Haying Time, 1892 [detail]. A rhyming then, between the harvest itself and its capture on canvas. A visual metaphor linking fecund earth to fecund art. In one manner or another throughout his career, Pissarro had thus been proposing parallels between paints worked on canvas and crops worked in the fields whenever he used loose technique to depict agricultural subjects. This is fine and good: we are dealing with a rhetorical device, undoubtedly of utility to contemporary critics and later art historians alike. But what if, in some sense, it is actually true? Let us take seriously the possibility that the artist may have something deeply in common with the peasant, that the picture plane functions as a field. Paradoxically, if we do so, Pissarro in the end will manage an unexpected twist, to assume a form radically different from the human corporeality that the likeness with the peasant would imply. Pissarro has received less rigorous study than have most of the other canonical Impressionists. T.J. Clark’s painstaking examination of the Two Young Peasant Women of 1892, with its beautiful and sensitive account of Pissarro’s treatment of light and colour, is undoubtedly the most influential analysis of this phase of the artist’s career. As do I, Clark recognises that the mature Pissarro’s process operated in a largely subliminal manner: ‘[Technique and perception] are deeply embedded in looking and denoting and building oneself a painterly repertoire. They take time. They are only barely under the artist’s conscious control.’1 Clark’s project is then ‘to bring into focus … Pissarro’s politics and their effect on his art[,] … the way they disturbed the balance on which Pissarro’s working practice depended’ (104). He argues: ‘Two Young Peasant Women … open[ed] itself to the welter of ideological struggle. Certainly in a way that threatened its maker’s skills, and disturbed his normal economy of making’ (128). Historical analysis in Clark’s chapter thus takes the form of assessing how such external factors go about ‘forcing and altering’ established technique, for better or worse (104). My argument focuses instead on Pissarro’s procedure, Clark’s foundation taken as given, for the sake of questioning the dominant interpretation, at the time and since, of the thick brushstroke as a strong sign of artistic autonomous individuality. That art historical and critical approach is itself a powerful ideological formulation, with a history of its own. In my recent book Brushstroke and Emergence, I explore how artists—mind and body, person and process—might extend into the world.2 The nascent discipline of emergence explores the elaborate reciprocal interrelationships between enormously multiple but simple phenonema and complex single entities built out of them. Drawing from these insights, I maintain that Modernist artistic practice of the sort that relies on the visible brushstroke as a telling trace of autonomous individuality can better (or at least differently) be regarded as an intricate continuous network consisting of both neurons and small brushstrokes in constant interaction, rather than as a confrontation between two distinct entities: painter and canvas. In this article, somewhat a coda but also a reversal of that book, I should like to see how far we can follow Pissarro outwards in that direction, beyond the individual contained in its fleshy carapace. Whereas Brushstroke and Emergence makes a case for the artistic self passing through the body to colonise the canvas, ‘Pissarro’s Twist’ considers how the canvas may also be reaching back up the artist’s arm to lay claim to the self. These are not two different processes but one process viewed from two perspectives, akin to regarding evolution either as organisms using their genes to perpetuate the species or as genes using organisms to sustain the code. We can hear a tussle over the aptness of the metaphor associating Pissarro and the peasant in an oft-quoted exchange between a critic and the artist. Hugues Leroux, writing anonymously in the pages of La République française as he reviewed the eighth Impressionist exhibition in 1886, passed the following verdict: [Pissarro] lives, deep in the countryside of Normandy, on a farm that he tills himself, and that feeds him with the produce of the soil that he works. When the harvest has been good and the toil of the fields leaves him free time, Pissarro takes up his brushes, looks around him, and records on canvas the tough existence he leads himself, that of peasants and country life. Above all, he sacrifices nothing for ‘art’; never a compromise! Pissarro would never renounce a colour he caught a glimpse of in order to please an art dealer.3 The final lines disclose the purpose of the preceding biographical account. Needing to guard the painter from the noxious taint of established artistic convention, the critic situates the artist in a protected setting and in an unsophisticated class, far from the worldly exhibition halls of Paris. Pissarro himself voiced an objection to descriptions of this sort. Given a choice between considering himself a country rube and an artistic (and political) sophisticate, it is understandable that the painter opted for the latter. ‘While Kropotkin believes that one must live as a peasant in order properly to understand them’, Pissarro wrote in a letter from 1892 to critic and man of letters Octave Mirbeau (from whom we shall hear later), ‘it seems to me that one must be enthused by one’s subject to render it well; but is it really necessary to be a peasant? Let us be artists above all and we will have the ability to sense everything, even a landscape, without being a peasant.’4 Critic and artist both have their reasons for holding on to the biographical entity so. Like many who will follow them, they place value on the life of the artist, that endlessly available figure for both cause and referent that preserves meaning in painting once it has lost such pre-packaged truths as those provided by myth, religion, and history. Mirbeau whipped off the platitude in the catalogue essay for the posthumous retrospective of Pissarro in 1904: ‘Not only is [the exhibition] a precious aesthetic joy, but also a precious biographical account, a faithful and very clear summary … of the intellectual history of one of the purest of artists.’5Intellectuelle: a broader term in French than in English, more redolent of ‘life of the mind’ than ‘scholarly erudition’ (although for Mirbeau and his contemporaries, it is still mind as thoughts in the brain, a presupposition with which I shall soon take issue). In this regard, both men assume their places within the Impressionist moment (and within the broad arc of artistic Modernism), whereby painters are regarded as creative individuals experiencing sensations worthy of expression in paint, with the brushstroke serving as a privileged sign of the thoughts and feelings of the autonomous self.6 Accordingly, most of my conclusions will apply not just to Pissarro but to all Impressionists, indeed to all artists for whom the visible technique for making the image affirms the independence of artistic individuality. I choose Pissarro for my argument because the rhyming in his canvases of artistic creation and field work provides an attractive avenue away from the dominant interpretation of the relation between paint and the purportedly autonomous mind of the painter. However, Mirbeau’s notion of Pissarro’s interior ruminations as the key to his works (and, more generally, the dominant historical and critical treatment of Impressionist individuality) needlessly constrains his artistic activities within overly narrow bounds, or at least it misplaces emphasis. For surely a crucial aspect of painting, perhaps its origin and essence, lies not in the realm of thoughts in the head but in the material world of actions, the hand holding brush placing paint on canvas. ‘Pissarro’ designates a person but also a process. The former I cede to the critic; let us examine the nature of the latter (with Pissarro partially joining us: ‘Let us be artists above all …’). Whether or not Pissarro the person was a peasant, Pissarro the process, as we have already seen, executes of set of gestures akin to the movements of labourers in the fields. He acts on material stuff, piling it up, spreading it out, turning it over (‘acts on’: our second term for engagement). He performs with his brush what they do with their pitchforks. Accordingly, the woman in the foreground is more than a metaphorical figure for the artist—although she is that too (Fig. 2). She is also replicating his own actions, or he is replicating hers. The outcome for the matter acted on is much the same. The paint behind the depiction of the woman lies relatively flat and nondescript, much like the stalks matted to the ground by the passage of time. As the actual woman passes, moving backwards, the dried grass plumps up and takes on character as its rustling fragments shimmer in sunlight; likewise, Pissarro’s brushstrokes in front of the figure undulate and glisten with their added heft. Pissarro does what she did, only across a smaller surface. The woman’s body divides what the artist has made full from what he has not. It is still a metaphor, one could object: what the artist does is like what the peasant does but is not the same thing. However, modern neuroscience suggests that the two actions may be less differentiated then we might first assume. I am aware that by marshalling neuroscience for my argument I risk venturing into a methodological minefield, given the recent contentious practice of what John Onians has dubbed ‘neuroarthistory’.7 Consequently, I should take a moment to make clear the nature of my claims. I have no intention of resituating the source of artistic creativity from the realm of thought to electric firings of the brain as part of a ‘crude materialist theory of mind’, in the words of Matthew Rampley, who has penned an insightful analysis of the methodological turn to neuroscience.8 Nor shall I be describing how neural structures govern aesthetic reception, as David Friedberg has done.9 Nor shall I characterise brain architecture as a detour around consciousness that permits local environmental factors to determine the course of art history by imprinting themselves directly into plastic neural networks, in the manner of Onians’s neo-Tainean argument. Rather, I should like to use discoveries from neuroscience to break apart the supposed coherence and autonomy of the artistic self, which is both the effective and final cause of the Impressionist ideological formation of artistic individuality. Accordingly, I shall work towards accounting for the painter as a process fully embedded in its environment, rather than as a monad of a mind. So, again: two actions, by artist and peasant, that may be less differentiated then we might first assume. The artist at the edge of the field sees a movement, a woman picking stuff up, stirring it around, flipping it over. At that moment, modern neurologists with their fMRIs and PET machines would tell us, certain neurons are firing in the artist’s brain (to return for the moment to the head, although not to thoughts). Pissarro then takes his brush in hand and emulates that action: picking stuff up, stirring it around, flipping it over. When he thus acts, that same set of neurons, or some closely related ones, may well be lighting up. ‘There are neurons found in the monkey ventral premotor cortex’, philosopher Andy Clark tells us, summarising neuroscientific research that presumably applies equally well to Pissarro the primate, ‘that are action-oriented, context-dependent, and implicated in both self-initiated activity and passive perception. They are active both when the monkey observes a specific action … and when the monkey performs the same action.’10 It is not as if one part of the mind performs an action and another perceives it. Doing and seeing activate the same set of neurons. The existence of these mirror neurons, as they are called, draws the process called peasant and the process called Pissarro much closer together, diminishing the difference between what the former does in the world and the latter depicts in art. The labourer twists and turns to transform that flat stuff into this fluffy stuff, and so too does the artist. From a neurological point of view, Pissarro’s act of painting may be more than like raking hay; it could potentially be nearly the same thing as raking hay. None the less, there remains an issue of scale, of reach. The woman operates her whole body, acting on material at a certain remove. The artist moves his arm and his hand, exerting effort only on that part of his world kept up close. These are real differences, not to be glossed over. The neurological activity of pitching hay and painting pictures will never be identical. None the less, peasant and Pissarro each take pains to bring their efforts more in line with one another. Consider first the woman in the field. That is hay, over there, out of reach at the end of the pitchfork. Like landscape seen at a distance, grass on the ground would seem beyond the immediate human ambit; neuroscientists would call this ‘extrapersonal space’. In contradistinction, ‘peripersonal space’ consists of the area literally close at hand. This is the realm of the still life, not the landscape—of objects to be picked up and placed on a table, of paint and palette and canvas. Crucially, different neurons fire when an individual encounters each of the realms. Reporting research on the brains of macaque monkeys, neuropsychologist Tobias Schicke informs us: [One set of neurons] often respond to a visual stimulus only if it is no more than ∼30 cm [1 foot] away from the hand. These neurons therefore seem to represent only the space close around the body, the so-called ‘peripersonal’ or ‘near’ space. Furthermore, the visual RF [receptive field] of these neurons follows the hand when it is moved; in other words, visual stimuli near the hand are coded by these neurons with respect to the hand, not the eyes.11 If this is true of humans as well (and why would it not be?), it would seem that artist and raker exercise two distinct regions of their brain. However, the peasant holds a pitchfork, and that changes everything. Philosopher and polymath Michael Polanyi argues: ‘While we rely on a tool or a probe, these are not handled as external objects. … They remain necessarily on our side, … forming part of ourselves, the operating persons. We pour ourselves out into them and assimilate them as parts of our existence. We accept them existentially by dwelling in them.’12 Accordingly, when a peasant turns hay the pitchfork becomes part of her own corporeal self, and the hay becomes neurologically close. ‘By integrating the tool into a practical repertoire, we are able to remap our expectations of what we can do and so, in effect, we remap the body schema’, explains philosopher of mind Alva Noë. ‘Transformations of the body schema can bring about extensions of peripersonal into what was merely extrapersonal space. … The acquisition of tool-using skills has the effect of increasing the extent of peripersonal space. … What was far becomes near. … Insofar as I act in and feel with my extended body, my mind is extended too.’13 So Pissarro’s neurological activity may in fact come close to echoing that of the peasant, as both use tools at hand to operate within peripersonal space. And then there is what Pissarro does. As he paints, he takes the world afar and places it right there, present on the canvas at hand. He transforms the visual scintillations of summer across grass into the rippling corrugations of corpulent strokes. He recasts the smooth expanses of skin and blouse and apron into textured, tactile stucco. Look closely at the woman’s pitchfork as he paints it: one long beige streak for the shaft between the hands, a second mauve one for the head and the leftmost prong. These brushstrokes are not a paintbrush but as close as anything could hope to be: its direct product, the simpler, more proximate trope of metonymy in place of metaphor. When viewing Haying Time as a whole, Pissarro’s palpable impastos grasp out and pull forward what the landscape has on offer at ever increasing distances—fields, trees, skies (Pissarro’s always marvellous skies, slathered on and fussed over like thick, intractable icing). Pissarro reaches further than the peasant and draws things closer in, transmuting the wide world into the material stuff of peripersonal manipulation. Pissarro had not always brought distant things close in such a way. A half decade earlier, the pointillist technique that he encountered in the works of Georges-Pierre Seurat and Paul Signac caught his enthusiasm, and he began his own experiments with the division of tones into dots of bright colour. In such paintings as House of the Deaf Woman and the Belfry at Éragny of 1886 (identical in size to Haying Time), the artist abandoned any attempt to rhyme the remote material of the world to the proximate substance of paint (Fig. 3). Regard the treatment of the kneeling peasant—gathering fallen fruit in a basket, perhaps—situated quite deep in this pictorial space (Fig. 4). Countless dabs of paint cluster together to depict the scintillations of light reflecting off this woman’s white blouse and dark skirt. The collection of orange bits and even a dot or two of white smattered across the deep blue of the skirt might be depicting the glint of bright sunlight off dark fabric, or it may be a demonstration of the principle of simultaneous contrast held dear by the neo-Impressionists. In either case, these dots aspire to render purely optical phenomena, as if they were capturing the play of light rising like a phenomenal screen between us and that solid body working in the field. Fig. 3. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, House of the Deaf Woman and the Belfry at Éragny, 1886, oil on canvas, 65 x 81 cm. Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, Anonymous, 2002.76. (Photo: Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields). Fig. 3. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, House of the Deaf Woman and the Belfry at Éragny, 1886, oil on canvas, 65 x 81 cm. Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, Anonymous, 2002.76. (Photo: Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields). Fig. 4. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, House of the Deaf Woman and the Belfry at Éragny, 1886 [detail]. Fig. 4. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, House of the Deaf Woman and the Belfry at Éragny, 1886 [detail]. None the less, materiality does not vanish from this picture—as if it ever could. Instead, it finds different purchase. If the force of light has seemingly washed away the weightiness of the woman, the minute brushstrokes rendering those optical effects assume a heft of their own—inconsequential viewed one-by-one but of real substance when taken cumulatively. Such materiality belongs not to the fields and trees of this rural setting, which manifest their physicality in radically different forms than this, but to the painted surface of the picture itself. To the left of the peasant and a bit further down the canvas, beige dots arranged in lesser-than signs (<) peel themselves free from the representational task of depicting a tranche of sunlight receding horizontally into the depths of the field, to instead thrust themselves flat up against the vertical picture plane. Here, they join many other beige dabs swarming all around, visibly pushed by Pissarro’s paintbrush onto this surface—pushed, as it were, from the opposite direction than the light flowing from the world. A similar dynamic occurs at the top of the canvas, where blue dots depicting the colour of sky nudge past distant clouds to make themselves physically present as paint, at no greater remove from the artist than the reach of his bent arm. So the dots reside up close, on this stretch of canvas, safely within Pissarro’s peripersonal space. If they tell us anything about the world, they do so in an immaterial way and at a remove, having travelled as light from peasant and field and sky to eyes of the artist and from there down his arm to brush on canvas. The picture’s emphasis on optical sensation has the effect of exiling far away from the picture the solid stuff from which sensation arrives, all of it distanced in the realm of the extrapersonal. We can see it happening in the composition of House of the Deaf Woman: a yawning gap of emptiness, the whole foreground of the picture separates us from the action happening way over there. Countless landscapes by Seurat and Signac exhibit this same vacated foreground, this insistence that the material of the world, unlike the optical effects it generates, is always not here but rather over there. A neo-Impressionist still life, with everything in reach, is an oxymoron. I can think of only a handful of examples, all of them weak. Moreover, Pissarro’s activity of thrusting dots outwards in no manner resembles the peasant’s toil of gathering fruit inwards. We are not all creatures inhabiting and moving together in the same world. Perhaps because of this fundamental alienation separating the artist from his fellow residents of the French countryside, Pissarro’s enthusiasm for neo-Impressionism soon waned. He returned to the comforts of peripersonal space where everything was at hand, where painting and peasant alike could turn it over and let it dry. As Pissarro explained in a letter to painter and critic Henry van de Velde in 1896, he had ‘abandoned’ Neo-Impressionism in order to ‘find again that which I have lost, having ascertained the impossibility of following my ever-so-fugitive sensations, and consequently of expressing life and movement’.14 For an artist who spent the preponderance of his career in the realm of physical proximity, neo-Impressionism was an anomalous excursion into material representation of optical distance. Indeed, paintings from before the pointillist sabbatical share with Haying Time a preference for the peripersonal. Nowhere, perhaps, is the collapse of far into near more manifest than in Pissarro’s painted palette from around 1878 (Fig. 5). Palettes are not supposed to present images. The first purpose of a palette should be to serve as a portable storage device, a place where, in the modern age of tin tubes, the artist can squeeze out prepared globs of pure colour before beginning to paint. There they are, along the top edge of Pissarro’s board: nearly pristine red and yellow, a rather dirtied white. These piles of pigment in glistening oil ostensibly do not represent the world; they are of the world, the raw materials from which representations will be crafted. Further down on this board, however, a picture anomalously fills the vast middle of the palette, the depiction of an agricultural scene with its sky pushing upward towards the globs. In such a setting, the yellow orb floating above patches of blue sky and white cloud cannot help but become the likeness of the sun. Moreover, late in the game Pissarro flicked little daubs of white over this patch of yellow, wet on dry, passing over like so many small cumuli. Conversely, the three heaviest clouds in a line, centred above the peasant standing on the wagon’s thill (side shaft) hardly distinguish their massing of white paint from the pile of white paint in the upper right corner. Here and there, Pissarro painted a cloud or squeezed out a splotch in much the same manner. Fig. 5. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Artist’s Palette with a Landscape, c. 1878, oil on panel, 24 x 35 cm. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, 1955.827. (Photo: Clark Art Institute, Michael Agee). Fig. 5. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Artist’s Palette with a Landscape, c. 1878, oil on panel, 24 x 35 cm. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, 1955.827. (Photo: Clark Art Institute, Michael Agee). The second purpose of a palette is to provide a surface on which the artist is able to mix colours. We can witness many examples of this practice on Pissarro’s board. At the far left edge, featherings of white and yellow-green surround a spot of deep purple, but the accumulation has also transfigured into a middleground tree of the same species as its background brethren (Fig. 6). Higher up, dabs of yellow and white pull off from the right side of the repository of glistening black near the corner. Working left to right from here we can almost read a narrative of artistic process. Pissarro pokes into the black blob the tip of his brush already charged with colours picked up from the patches of yellow and white way over on the right side, then ventures a first exploratory swipe of the mix, a gesture that also lessens the unmanageable surfeit of the brush’s load. Scanning right, we next encounter a similar but earlier admixture resulting in greys laid on by multiple passes to slough off excess, then a thinner sweep of grey with some remnants of yellow along for the ride, then finally the thinnest of the greys, again with a bit of yellow, partially covered by leftward pulls off the red. Acts of preparation, all. Yet, countless brushstrokes throughout that canvas that possess the same character and heft as these preliminary dabs also take up representational chores. You can see them in the yellow-greens along the bottom edge waving like grass, or in the corner accumulating to propose a bush, at the very heart of which we can discern a squeezed-out glob of green. Or have a look at the upper right, where the branches of a tree flutter against sky and cloud, only eventually to meld into the mass of dirtied white. For that matter, we can hardly determine where clouds behind the tree cease and glob begins. Fig. 6. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Artist’s Palette with a Landscape, c. 1878 [detail]. Fig. 6. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Artist’s Palette with a Landscape, c. 1878 [detail]. So, Pissarro has pulled this rural setting in close to himself, out of the extrapersonal space of the landscape and into the peripersonal space of his own artistic tools at hand. It is as if this agricultural scene is nothing more than the serendipitous by-product of the painter’s proximate mixing of pigments. None the less, our analysis so far has only been gnawing at the edges. Setting itself up in contrast to the periphery, the central vignette would seem to be able to wrest itself at least partially free from the processes of painting, escaping back into the extrapersonal space of its own slice of storytelling (Fig. 7). Fig. 7. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Artist’s Palette with a Landscape, c. 1878 [detail]. Fig. 7. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Artist’s Palette with a Landscape, c. 1878 [detail]. Let us recapitulate the action. A horse with blinders in harness waits to pull its load. A pair of labourers trouble themselves with the fittings; the man has climbed high on the thills to make an adjustment. A black wagon follows, its leading panel and its front wheel—well, the front half of a front wheel … Hold on, what has happened here? Left to right the depiction just peters out, interrupted by a second circular, or rather ovoid shape. The palette’s thumbhole disrupts the illusion, breaking in on the scene. Or maybe it does not entirely; maybe it simultaneously allows Pissarro to contribute a part of himself to the tale. When mounted on the wall as if it were an actual painting, the palette is missing one crucial element present during its making: Pissarro’s thumb. I should like to imagine the artist’s digit sticking up nearly vertical, jutting above the wagon’s sideboard. In that case, the peasant has a companion, his efforts with the wagon have a purpose, because a third figure, fleshy and corpulent, has arrived to fill the wagon’s box—fill in both senses: occupy its space, and play the role of a farmer loading the vehicle full of bales for transport. Pissarro himself is as present in the agricultural scene as is the labourer bent over to the left. However, this positioning of the thumb cannot be correct, for were Pissarro to be holding the palette away from his body in such a manner, his right thumb would be entering the scene while his left hand limned the image—and Pissarro was no southpaw. A self-portrait from 1897–8 of the artist at work clarifies his actual pose (Fig. 8). In this image reversed by the mirror into which he gazed, Pissarro does not hold the palette out from himself. Rather, he tucks it in tight to his body, its short length supported by his forearm while his left thumb sticks through the hole. With the painted palette, it occupies the area at about four o’clock where the dark strokes surrounding the opening are thinnest. The thumb now completes the story in a different manner, no longer vertical humanoid but instead horizontal extension of the wagon, no longer actor but thing acted on. Or perhaps the narrative runs in the other direction now. Outward from the thumb—not just at hand to the artist but of his hand, proprioceptically present to him—the painter’s own dark brushstrokes radiate. Without the thumb, these strokes may appear the leaves of a bush, but with it present (in Pissarro’s actuality or in our imagination) they endure as traces of what this thumb’s dextral partner and its accompanying fingers holding a brush can do. They can, for instance, encroach on depicted things, overwhelm them, fasten onto them so that they remain near rather than slipping into the distance. They eat away at the better half of the wheel, and splash over to the shadow where the thills meet the wagon’s box. Were the texture more similar, they might have managed outposts as far out as the man’s shadow, or the horse’s, or the horse’s yoke. This scene cannot break free from the artist’s clutches, from his peripersonal range. Rather, it becomes the backward extension of his own body part. Indeed, were we to imagine a slightly cocked wrist beneath this board tucked against the body, then the main elements of the scene—thumb to box to peasants to horse to horse’s shadow to bush in the corner—follow almost exactly the trajectory of Pissarro’s own covered forearm. Fig. 8. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Self-Portrait, 1897–8, oil on canvas, 75 x 53 cm. Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection, 185.R.44. Fig. 8. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Self-Portrait, 1897–8, oil on canvas, 75 x 53 cm. Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection, 185.R.44. In painting this small palette, Pissarro thus held close to himself the entire scene as well as the means that made it. He did not even need to reach out from his own body, as he would have when placing brushstrokes on a canvas mounted on an easel. He looked down, not out. He practically folded back on himself, right arm crossing over left in near embrace, but for the intervening board painting along his own limb. The act is almost as intimate as a caress of the self.15 In fact, the palette may become an integral part of Pissarro’s own person. Philosopher of mind Andy Clark stands as perhaps the leading proponent of the idea that the ‘extended mind’ breaks out of its cranial shell to occupy not just the body but also the surrounding world. Clark argues: ‘The actual local operations that realize certain forms of human cognizing include inextricable tangles of feedback, feed-forward, and feed-around loops: loops that promiscuously criss-cross the boundaries of brain, body, and world. The local mechanisms of mind … are not all in the head. Cognition leaks out into body and world.’16 In a now canonical article that Clark wrote with David Chalmers, the authors illustrate the point by maintaining the impossibility of distinguishing meaningfully between a woman relying on memory and a mentally impaired man using written notes during the cognitive operation of navigating the streets of New York.17 In each case, the person gets from here to there by pulling information into consciousness, with the storage medium in each case functioning as an integral part of the multifaceted mind, irrespective of its physical location. Cognition of this dynamic sort does not occur only within the human shell. As with thoughts, so with actions. While a painter such as Pissarro may well consciously plan out his overall composition and theme, when it comes to the sort of small-scale habitual behaviours of mixing and apply paints such as we see on the palette, artistic thinking happens directly on the surface itself. About Gustave Courbet, I wrote in Brushstroke and Emergence: He does not, before he acts, concoct a mental representation of how he will position his thumb in relation to his fingers, or how he will pivot his wrist or bend his elbow, or how he will swing left hand, holding the palette, toward right, holding the brush. Of course, he does ponder his next steps (neurons firing away in the brain), but those deliberations probably take the form of thoughts such as ‘That area of water is getting too dark,’ or ‘I like that texture enough to let it expand leftward,’ and then the automatic protocols for lightening or stippling activate and hands execute, even as mind may move on to its next consideration.18 With habits and procedures thus engrained at the level of muscle memory, with individual brushstrokes finding their place in large part owing to how the hand and brush adjust to the local conditions into which they enter as they near the canvas, we can imagine agency not in the brain, nor even in the body but resident on the painted surface where artistic mind—something other than thought—manifests itself. I have argued in Brushstroke and Emergence (the first paragraph about Courbet, the second about Georges Seurat): The earlier brushstrokes stand as a record for ready reference of decisions reached in previous cycles of the ongoing operation. The latest application acts on the earlier ones by revising them or even covering them up, but the earlier ones also act on the latest by prompting from it an immediate response to the proximate environment. … Each spot of intense chroma hops from palette to tip of the brush; then, as it nears the surface of the canvas, it twitches left or right, up or down, picking up momentum or slowing down, in response to the … demands placed on it by its previous mates who had recently completed the same journey. Without conscious thought directing it, a patch of white flattens out and loses its distinguishing edges to render a girl’s dress; a spot of purple elongates into a streak to join the flow already gushing down the top-hatted man’s sleeve.19 In relation to the activity of placing paints on surface in the manner of Courbet, Seurat, or Pissarro, Andy Clark’s account would seem entirely apposite: ‘Certain aspects of the external word … may be so integral to our cognitive routines as to count as part of the cognitive machinery itself.’20 Pissarro folded in on himself, painting his palette as if it were his arm, confusing the means of representation with its ends; Pissarro-and-palette, as a singular entity, embodies an extreme instance of the artistic mind extending out into body and tools. But the conclusion holds as well for his easel paintings, such as Haying Time (Fig. 1). Especially in the middle section of the bottom third of the canvas but to a lesser extent throughout, Pissarro piled on his paint and mixed his pigments and turned them with a twist of his wrist as part of an ongoing process realised right here, not first conceived elsewhere and then transposed onto the surface. Mind manifest here, not making its trace manifest from somewhere over there. There is no intermediating process of transduction between discrete mind and matter, distanced from each other by such translation from one Cartesian category to another. The admixtures of colour, the textures of field and woman and sky are all integral, non-derivative aspects of Pissarro’s artistic cognition and execution. None the less, a counterforce may also exert itself here, just as it does on the painted palette. In this field—field of hay, field of art—the mind of Pissarro may reside, but other humans also barge in to assert their place, on this surface and in this space. One, two, three, four: each depicted labourer who turns hay confronts the viewer with the potential for a consciousness of his or her own. Pissarro as process risks bumping up against other minds, other thoughts, other activities not determined by itself. Just as a startling encounter with human eyes in our own visual field instantly forces us to concede the existence of a consciousness of inscrutable psychic depth other than our own (think of the real eyes peering through cut-outs from a portrait in a haunted house, or Bruno at the tennis match in Strangers on a Train of 1951), so too the human figures in Haying Time threaten to rent the canvas, as if piercing through this peripersonal surface to reveal extrapersonal people afar. The woman in the foreground who rhetorically figures the artist exemplifies the contradiction at the heart of every such metaphor: as something like another, it is both similar to and distinct from it. Labourer as Pissarro, then; but also labourer as not Pissarro, beyond his ambit, over there. However, we need to remain wary of imposing our own visual habits on perceptions from the past. Although Pissarro painted Haying Time close to the centenary of the formulation and wide dissemination of the French tenets of liberté, égalité, fraternité, we today may none the less be more prone than viewers at the end of the nineteenth century to acknowledge the universal general equivalence of independent human souls. The essence of peasants, to many such observers, would have placed them as being profoundly of the earth. They are integral to the land, not actors on it. Just listen to the critics. Gustave Geffroy, writing about the Pissarro retrospective at Galerie Durand-Ruel in 1892, gave himself over fully to the georgic: ‘The beings that live in this landscape have been preserved in their permanent place.’ (‘Landscape’: a productive conflation of peasants in the field with their depiction in paint, since the term names both a vista and a format of canvas.) ‘There is an accord of lines and colours between these people, these animals and the setting of this greenery and these skies. It is an intimacy of soil, atmosphere, beasts, and man.’21 So too Mirbeau embraced the myth, writing that same year: ‘Even when [Pissarro] paints figures, scenes from rustic life, man is always situated in the vast telluric harmony, reduced to his function as a human plant’ (‘in some sense melted into the earth’, he had added in a different wording of the phrase from a year before).22 Mirbeau did so again in the catalogue introduction to the artist’s posthumous exhibition in 1904: ‘These are … man and beast such as they live in nature, subordinated to it, a bit lost in it, a bit overwhelmed by its indifferent enormity and always remaining in their place, in their function, in the universal harmony.’23 Just as critics dissolve peasants into their rustic setting, Pissarro merged their bodies into his landscapes. We see no faces, no eyes. Witness the way in which the texture that Pissarro gives to the woman’s apron and blouse resembles the coarseness of surrounding field, or how the angle at which he tips her head, blank save for a streak of sunlight illuminating its left edge, replicates the diagonals of the mauve strokes lining up to the left and right of it (Fig. 2). Fittingly, Mirbeau’s rhetorical flourish as he neared his conclusion in 1904 leaves ambiguous whether the peasants subsumed themselves to the fullness of nature or that of art: ‘The particular fact, the incident, the individual, only occupy, in the compositions of Camille Pissarro, strictly the place that they must occupy, in the ensembles that mostly encompass them. The eye of the artist, like the thought of the thinker, discover the large aspects of things, the totalities’ (8). Far from positioning peasants apart from the landscape in which they work, Pissarro makes them a part of it. How, then do the labourers exist within their georgic setting? If they are so thoroughly subordinated to it, why can we discern their presence at all? Surely they must manifest their presence in some manner. Pissarro provides an answer not through the woman in the foreground but by means of the tiny male figure, only a bit more than two inches in height, positioned in the distant middleground behind her (Fig. 9). (It was this little fellow, not his larger companion to the right, who first gave me a poke and insisted I attend to this canvas.) The painter renders this faceless man with just a handful of strokes, the simplifying rapidity of his technique especially evident in the footless legs. Although this fellow clothes are darker than his setting, his bulk—or rather, his lack of it—verges on the diaphanous. We can see the thicker strokes that depict the field preceding the figure’s placement continue their flow beneath his form: at the crown of the hat, and the left shoulder, and all along the right arm, above all in the right thigh and left shin. None the less, this mere apparition manages to act. He holds a pitchfork, heavier in paint by far than his own wispiness, a tool that moments earlier he must have thrust forwards to pick up a huge clump of hay. That grassy mass, however, never distinguishes itself strongly from the surrounding meadow. It consists of the same colours as the stalks still lying on the ground: more blues and mauves than the patches immediately above and below but colours plentiful enough in a wide band extending right and left. So too its weight and texture match the brushstrokes that surround. What demarcates this clump, what makes it visible, is instead a twist. The peasant gathers the stalks together by swirling them around, like spaghetti on a fork, after which he will place them down again. He registers his presence by accomplishing this action. Turn it over, let it dry. Fig. 9. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Haying Time, 1892 [detail]. Fig. 9. View largeDownload slide Camille Pissarro, Haying Time, 1892 [detail]. But that is not quite right, because it is not the peasant that pivots the mass thus. It is Pissarro. Pissarro holds a brush—as with the foreground woman, evoked metonymically by the handle of the man’s pitchfork, here abbreviated to a single thick bead of paint. Pissarro reaches forward towards his canvas; he performs a twist. We can all but see him holding a relatively large brush, with its bristles in a circle like a shaving brush, placing it on the wet surface, and rotating his wrist. (On closer examination, actual execution was surely different, but such is the lasting impression that this small patch conveys.) Pissarro the process manifests itself on canvas as this turn, literal and figurative. By now the tropes abound, so let us inventory them. Pissarro is like the peasant in his rural residency and rustic simplicity: metaphor. The artist’s brushstroke leaves its most patent trace in handles of the pitchforks: metonymy. The peasant is part of his georgic setting: synecdoche. The palette and even the canvas are part of the artist’s mind: again, synecdoche. We can hardly avoid activating another metaphor—a meta-metaphor, actually—by drawing the obvious parallel: that the artist is in his picture like the peasant is amid his hay. Pissarro makes his presence known when he twists within his field of painting (‘twists within’: our third and final term for engagement). If the picture’s surface is part of the artist’s mind, if the twist within it is that mind’s manifestation in paint, then it would be fair to ask: which part of mind is it? The philosophers of mind have a ready answer: it is an extension. Feedback loops with the body and the world, by Andy Clark’s lights, ‘extend … the machinery of the mind out into the world. … Such cycles supersize the mind’.24 Alva Noë explicitly agrees with Clark, describing objects caught up in cognition ‘as belonging to my mind’.25 These accounts, however, suffer from what we might call craniocentrism. They beg the question by presuming that mind and cognition start in the brain and build outwards out from there. They conflate the core of the mind with the core of the self. We can hardly blame the philosophers: they are in the business of thinking, so naturally they centre themselves in their thoughts. But painters are not philosophers. Their principal task is not to think but to act. To act in a certain manner on a certain type of picture plane. The centre of painter as process is not in the head but on the canvas, where thick paints spread themselves out across a stretched sheet of coarse cloth. Let us imagine, then, Pissarro as existing principal as the turnings and drying on that surface, a process out of which extends brush, and arm, and brain, and mind. Let us imagine Pissarro manifest not in the material of paint so much as a disturbance within it. As turbulence. Returning to our tiny man gathering hay, we can posit one final trope: irony, played out left to right. Pissarro is not a peasant; he is not even a man. Rather than being figured in the metaphoric likeness to the left, Pissarro as process presents itself, makes itself present, in the twist of paint to the right. That swivel is even more immediate than a self-portrait, because, as a likeness, a portrait is but a copy of an original existing elsewhere. In contrast, this swirl is Pissarro right here. This is the essence of Pissarro as process, irrespective of the fact that that process may need to extend itself up some proximate arm into Pissarro the person, that peripheral thing that the twist needs to realise itself on canvas as action, not thought.26 ‘Twisting within’ rather than ‘acting on’. I should like to propose this description as a salubrious correction to many art historical approaches that place the artist outside the work, a person preceding a process. Whether the approach is biographical, whereby the painter expresses himself on canvas, or social-historical, whereby the artist records and interprets his surrounding context, or neo-formal, whereby the visual semiotician executes his clever rhetorical ploys, the picture stands principally as a record of artistic intent formulated elsewhere, in the head of a creature. Such a displacement both discounts the agency of art itself (including its ability to act on the artist), and freezes an active operation into the stiff material of dried paint. In contrast, art as turbulence that disrupts the regular flow of the expected, art as a twist within an otherwise isotropic field, allows us a perception of non-personified painting as embedded activity, present here and now on canvas. Even in a literal sense, such twists are not limited to one small patch in a painting by Pissarro (in a figurative sense, twists within are everywhere). Consider Paul Cézanne’s Sous-Bois of around 1894, a painting that tasked me until Haying Time explained to me how it works (Fig. 10). The canvas presents a largely featureless forest glade, without woodsmen, without even a looming Mont Sainte-Victoire in the distance (unless that is its extreme left flank glimpsed through the foliage). Yet the picture is seething with action. A halo of greenery just above centre, crossed by branches in an X, demands our attention, and merits a closer look (Fig. 11). Like the force from an explosion, the strokes radiate out from the X in virtually all directions. A trunk to the left bends before the blast; but its curvature also suggests a different flow of movement, in circles around the centre. And look: over on the right side of the area of radiance, a whole set of brushstrokes stream in arcs, running from about one o’clock to five o’clock, like grooves on a shattered LP. Returning to the green halo, we can notice that the radii are not actually straight: especially around ten o’clock they bow a bit, with their leading curved edges inclined downwards, while their peripheral tails bend towards the right. It is as if a circle of canvas about the size of salad plate twisted itself counterclockwise; the circumferential lines to the right register the resulting warp. A similar twist may also be occurring in the lower left corner of the painting, seemingly clockwise this time judging from a few curved strokes at the right edge of the area of disturbance and an extra tail of green pushing left on a patch just above its centre. In both cases, the distortions of the surface seem to release enormous energy pent up in the brushstrokes as they swirl madly around the two vortices. This, I would maintain, is the Cézanne that counts: not the erstwhile Impressionist repairing to Aix but the turbulence on the surface bringing curvature to space. Fig. 10. View largeDownload slide Paul Cézanne, Sous-Bois, c. 1894, oil on canvas, 116 x 81 cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Wallis Foundation Fund in memory of Hal B. Wallis, AC1992.161.1. (Photo: Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Fig. 10. View largeDownload slide Paul Cézanne, Sous-Bois, c. 1894, oil on canvas, 116 x 81 cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Wallis Foundation Fund in memory of Hal B. Wallis, AC1992.161.1. (Photo: Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Fig. 11. View largeDownload slide Paul Cézanne, Sous-Bois, c. 1894 [detail]. Fig. 11. View largeDownload slide Paul Cézanne, Sous-Bois, c. 1894 [detail]. A forkful of hay, spatial contortions among the trees. These are not rhetorical tropes turned by painters on the scenes they observe and record. Rather, the visual tropes are process turning itself into existence. They manifest, not represent, artistic activity not as a thing (conveniently personified by the painter, who is constantly called onto the stage of art history and criticism for need of a cause) but as a set of deformations, of ripples that stir up the antecedent ambience of a given environment. We cannot fetishise the Impressionist brushstroke as a simple trace and affirmation of a given independent individual. These processes are fully embedded in the world. And is this approach not also a salubrious recasting of human existence itself? We are all twisting within our settings, not acting on them from without. Similar to the peasant as the turning of the hay and the artist as the turning of the paint, humans manifest themselves as bits of turbulence in reality’s flow, each individual a disturbance that sends out a ripple or two that might subsequently alter (a little or a lot) the wakes a few others are cutting, or that are cutting them, into the world. Footnotes 1 T.J. Clark, ‘We Field-Women’ [chapter 2], Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), p. 104. 2 James D. Herbert, Brushstroke and Emergence: Courbet, Impressionism, Picasso (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015). 3 [Hugues Leroux], ‘L’Exposition des impressionnistes,’ La République française, 17 May 1886; reproduced in Ruth Berson (ed.), The New Painting: Impressionism 1884–1886: Documentation, 2 vols. (San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums, 1996), p. 1: 224. Here and below all translations are my own. 4 Janine Bailly-Herzberg (ed.), Correspondance de Camille Pissarro, 5 vols. (Paris: Éditions du Valhermeil, 1980–91), p. 3:217. 5 Octave Mirbeau, ‘Camille Pissarro’ [preface], Catalogue de l’exposition de l’œuvre de Camille Pissarro (Paris: Galeries Durand-Ruel, 1904), p. 5. Lack of grammatical parallel in the original. 6 I address this ideological formation of artistic individuality in Brushstroke and Emergence. 7 John Onians, Neuroarthistory: From Aristotle and Pliny to Baxandall and Zeki (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008). 8 Matthew Rampley, ‘Brains, Caves, and Phalanxes: Neuroaesthetics and Neuroarthistory’ [chapter 3], The Seductions of Darwin: Art, Evolution, Neuroscience (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2017). 9 Art historian Friedberg worked with neuroscientist Vittorio Gallese. David Friedberg and Vittorio Gallese, ‘Motion, Emotion and Empathy in Esthetic Experience’, Trends in Cognitive Science, vol. 11, no. 5, March 2007, pp. 197–203. 10 Andy Clark, ‘Where Brain, Body, and World Collide’, Daedalus, vol. 127, no. 2, Spring 1998, p. 267. Clark cites Giacomo Rizzolatti, Luciano Fadiga, Vittorio Gallese, and Leonardo Fogassi; ‘Premotor Cortex and the Recognition of Motor Actions’, Cognitive Brain Research, vol. 3, no. 2, March 1996, pp. 131–41. The abstract of that article begins: ‘In area F5 of the monkey premotor cortex there are neurons that discharge both when the monkey performs an action and when he observes a similar action made by another monkey or by the experimenter.’ The passage I quote from Clark continues ‘where sameness implies not mere grasping but the grasping of a food item’, but the source article distinguishes between empty grasping and food grasping, not between food grasping and grasping some other object. Analogically, whether Pissarro’s perception matches the peasant’s depends not on whether hay or paint is being moved but simply on whether material of some sort or another is being moved. 11 Tobias Schicke, ‘Human Peripersonal Space: Evidence from Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging’, The Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 27, no. 14, 4 April 2007, p. 3616. 12 Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, rev. ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1964 [1st ed. 1958]), p. 59. 13 Alva Noë, Out of our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness (New York: Hill and Wang, 2009), p. 80. 14 Bailly-Herzberg (ed.), Correspondance de Camille Pissarro, p. 4:180. 15 Here my argument somewhat resembles Michael Fried’s account of how Gustave Courbet, in works such as Man with the Leather Belt of 1845–6 and The Painter’s Studio of 1854–85, ‘translate[s] himself bodily into the painting’. While both Fried and I should have Courbet being ‘absorbed’ into the canvases (a key concept for Fried), we should emphasise different actors in the process. In essence, whereas Fried would have Courbet the man pushing his corporeal presence into the pictures (or, in his own words, ‘reconstitute within the painting his absorption in his live bodily being’), I should have Courbet the process pulling the person into itself. Moreover, whereas Fried builds his case largely around themes and composition, I am relying more on analysis of technique. A concise presentation of Fried’s argument appears in Michael Fried, ‘Representing Representation: On the Central Group in Courbet’s “Studio”’, Art in America, vol. 69, no. 7, September 1981, pp. 127–33, 168–73; with a fuller account published in Michael Fried, Courbet’s Realism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990). The passages I quote appear on pages 133 and 168 of the article. 16 Andy Clark, Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. xxviii. 17 Andy Clark and David Chalmers, ‘The Extended Mind’, Analysis, vol. 58, no. 1, January 1998, pp. 7–19. Clark includes this article as an appendix to Supersizing the Mind. 18 Herbert, Brushstroke and Emergence, p. 17; earlier in James D. Herbert, ‘Courbet, Incommensurate and Emergent’, Critical Inquiry, vol. 40, no. 2, Winter 2014, p. 347. 19 Herbert, Brushstroke and Emergence, pp. 18, 102; Herbert, ‘Courbet, Incommensurate and Emergent’, p. 348. 20 Clark, ‘Where Brain, Body, and World Collide’, p. 274; italics in the original. 21 Gustave Geffroy, ‘Chronique artistique: L’exposition de Camille Pissarro’, La Justice, 2 February 1892. 22 Octave Mirbeau, ‘Camille Pissarro’, Le Figaro, 1 February 1892; Octave Mirbeau, ‘Camille Pissarro’, L’Art dans les deux mondes, no. 8, 10 January 1891, p. 84. 23 Mirbeau, ‘Camille Pissarro’ [preface], Catalogue … de Camille Pissarro, p. 2. 24 Clark, Supersizing the Mind, p. xxvi. 25 Noë, Out of Our Heads, p. 82. 26 This description of paint as an actor and man as something acted on resonates with ideas developed by sociologist Bruno Latour and others that have become known as actor–network theory. See, for instance, Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory [sic] (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), which has as the subtitle of its third chapter, ‘Objects Too Have Agency’. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

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Oxford Art JournalOxford University Press

Published: Mar 1, 2018

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