A D R I A N S T O K E S
M A I N I N T R O D U C T I O N - Richard Wollheim
And now we have in a rough form the constituents of the new theory of modelling. For if the envelopment factor can symbolize the oceanic feeling, the illimitable bliss, then the contrasted or stressed elements whether these are left starkly adjacent - as, say, in the paintings of middle Turner - or whether they are some what omnipotently gestured together - as, say, by the brush-stroke in some great Monets - symbolize the part-objects themselves in so far as they are not fully repaired. For there is an insistence in Stokes on the ultimate strength of this reparative drive in any great creative artist, and Stokes has left us descriptions both of late Turner and of late Monet, showing how the envelopment is still powerful but the fragmented elements are now harmonized by some exploitation of touch or texture. I quote from the Turner essay:
In the great last period, not only is the world washed clean by light, but humidity is sucked from water, the core of fire from flame, leaving an iridescence through which we witness an object's ceremonious identity: whereupon space and light envelop them and us, cement the world under the aegis of a boat at dawn between Cumaean headlands, or a yacht that gains the coast.
Stokes's application of psycho-analysis to art was very much his own. But what was also very much his own was the way in which he drew certain very broad consequences from this application.These consequences put together formed what might be thought of as a sociology of art: sketchier than any sociologist would recognize, but also more profound.
The first consequence concerns the deep roots of art in life. Art is at least as deeply rooted in life as to make that stock-in-trade of so much academic aesthetics, the distinctively aesthetic emotion, a highly suspect entity. The continuities between art and life are a major theme in Stokes's work, and they are asserted in two crucial contexts. Neither the kind of activity that generates art, nor the kind of perception that art generates, is autonomous. On the one hand, the creation of art is linked with other, less reputed ways of working with or upon material. The fine arts, Stokes liked to say, are rooted in the handicrafts, and the handicrafts in turn derive from the other forms of manual labour society contains. On the other hand, the perception of art is grounded in the visual experience of the environment. Stokes loved this theme too, and he distilled it into the saying that architecture is the mother of the arts. He wrote, 'There is a sense in which the crux of art can be recognized in a completely satisfying progression from a cobbled thoroughfare to the smooth base of a building that grows upward from it: a sense in which graphic art (even the greatest) is the prolonging, or the decoration, of the simplest architectural effect.' And in Michelangelo he wrote, 'The ideal way to experience painting in Italy is first to examine olive terraces, then fine streets of the plain houses, before entering a gallery.
And from this there follows, as the next consequence, the immense importance of the environment, the built environment of the town and of the traditional countryside, not just for art but also for life itself. Nor is it merely - if 'merely' is the word - that we rely upon an integrated environment - 'the realm of aperture and projection, wall and void, of rough and smooth, the constant theme of architectural effect', as he calls it - to sustain the projection of good ego-states. But a fragmented environment, offering us only shock, glitter, chaos, ugliness, encourages part-object fantasies of an aggressive and crudely sexualized kind. In this sense a good environment is not a luxury, it is a necessity. 'I asked my neighbour at the Oval Cricket-Ground where a gasometer obtrudes why it was ugly' is how an essay opens: and, though it is evident that Stokes did not wait for an answer, he speculates that the answer he himself went on to give would not have been incomprehensible to his neighbour; just unwelcome. He would have shrugged it off as the product of a dirty mind.