dwight garner can be so, so good. here's a line: "You turn each page the way a rat hits the little lever for another pellet of crack." so, lucian freud, 'probably-the-most-important-painter-of-the-late-etc-period,' was certainly a grotesque monster. really some lovely moments:
A boxer when young, Freud loved to thump or head-butt his fellow Britons. One of his daughters recalls, “Dad used to hit taxi drivers and punched people in the street if he didn’t like the look of them.”
Freud leapt on women (and occasionally men) throughout his life as if he were a flying squirrel in paint-flecked work boots.
In Mr. Greig’s account, he could be a sadist. “He became quite vicious, really hurt breasts and things,” a lover comments. He liked anal sex with women, an acquaintance reports, because it was redolent of utter domination.
now, am i going to use such things to bash the art of lucian freud? that would be so typical! because i've never seen what all the fuss was about. but here's what i think is disturbing: i think this stuff is actually part of why he is regarded as 'the most important painter.' by 1973 we were running out of gigantic modernist art heroes; picasso must have been off someplace expiring. pop and conceptualism and whatever were cool and all, but they didn't give you the painter-god: the modernist colossus who re-makes the visible world. so people yearned, and they yearn still. well, as this makes perfectly clear, it is a masochist yearning: utter domination is the mark of genius, expressed in an anal assault or in a masterpiece.
the bacon/freud mini-renaissance in england was like a late efflorescence, a last gasp, because for one thing england never quite got on top of modernism and drove it at all, really: the bloomsbury group were as much late-blooming aesthetes as figures of high modernism (clive bell or roger fry's art criticism appeared merely quaint in paris even as it was written, i should think). they came late, partly because of that. these two guys were like modernism's last chance, the great white hope in a sea of post-modern crap. i'm sure people wanted to build a revival around them, but i think it just petered out. let's add henry moore, maybe. really modernism unfolded at different rates and of course different looks in different places: teens and after and earlier in some parts of europe; 40s/50s in new york/ca; 60s/70 in england. by then, they might have been the only vital fresh forces still doing that with a good conscience.
at all these moments, a basic driving idea of late romanticism/modernism is that you can't judge art morally, that great art is above morality = l'art pour l'art. that was, among other things, an argument against censorship. so that's good. but however, it gets slightly extended, which is where it goes horribly wrong: it apparently entails in the wrong hands that the great artist is outside morality. so, we think we are finding these monster-gods, like they're a quasi-natural phenomenon; genius just seizes them, another reason that they are above our petty little moral rules about sexually assaulting people or whatever it may be. but we are also teaching everyone that to be a genius, you'd better start acting like an unbelievable asshole. and then, though garner doesn't exactly do this right there, we actually accept them as geniuses in part due to their assholery: the bigger the asshole, the bigger the genius. then you get these myths in which it is next to impossible even to see the actual artistic achievement, if any, so stupefyingly do they radiate domination that all you do is acquiesce. we created, insisted upon, constructed, the monsters who are, you know, doing us.
also, the modernist babygod is a psychological anomaly of some sort: diagnosable, dude. so, they're suicidally depressed (van gogh), they're extreme substance abusers (don't get me started), they're literally paranoid schizophrnenics like john nash or whatever. so it does come in various flavors: tormented little toulouse-lautrec! the young doomed poet who radiates sexual heat like a furnace, say verlaine, and who suffers simultaneously with all maladies. the sadist hyper-masculine godling (picasso, hemingway, de kooning, beckett) is only one such flavor, and maybe the important thing is just to be bent: your symptoms: they are your talent. madness lets you see what conventional people miss. but the sadist godling is also a central bit: i think the dominance and submission relation is central to the experience of art on and off, but never more than here. as kierkegaard might say, the actual artistic genius might just as likely be indistinguishable from a grocer or an accountant. at any rate, don't let this make you think that going mad or simulating madness or shooting all the heroin you can find will in itself enhance your craft.
really you're under full anal assault right there in the museum, at least once you accept the critical apparatus, the decades of praise that make resistance socially impractical.