Opposes Injustice; or, Cézanne's "Still Life with Onions"
by Nancy Huntting
From Art Answers the
Questions of Your
Life!, a series of talks at
the Terrain Gallery in NYC based on the landmark principle stated by
Siegel, founder of Aesthetic Realism: "All
a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we
going after in ourselves."
I love "Still Life with Onions" by
and I am grateful to have learned from Aesthetic Realism that it
a central question of my life and most people's lives: I did not see
the everyday things around me; I thought familiar objects were mundane.
And I thought, as many people secretly do, that I was the most
thing. I preferred my daydreams and broodings to the demands of the
world around me. But I also felt dull and stuck within myself. I
this wonderful and also urgent fact: Art can teach us how to have the
we most want in our lives.
Here we see
vegetables and domestic objects, like those I have used and put away
much thought. Cézanne found a meaning in them people all over
world have been stirred by. In "The Organization of Self," a chapter of
and World, Eli Siegel explains that people separate the wonderful
the matter-of-fact, and he writes:
I learned that the wonder Cézanne found is the fact Mr. Siegel
-- that the structure of the whole world is in every object, the
of opposites, which is our structure, too. Studying how this is so has
ended the boredom and weariness I once felt.
paints a common fruit
he does not add to that fruit qualities which the fruit does not
he sees the fruit accurately -- with unrelenting accuracy;
through his accuracy a something beyond the fruit, a wonder beyond the
vegetable is presented. Familiarity and wonder must be, and have been
in all true aesthetics.
Press, NY, pp. 136-137]
object in this painting, each onion, has its own particular shape,
definite and contained -- yet every object, the curve of every onion,
and joins the other objects; the colors change and continue; energetic,
disorderly green and brown shoots come forth form the onions almost as
if they were feeling out their relation to each other and the
and space. This is a "still life" -- yet it is like a waterfall, a
of shapes and colors spilling across the table and over its edge.
like confusion, bustle in life -- I wanted peace and calm. I liked my
store because things didn't move and bother me! I'll never forget being
asked in an Aesthetic Realism consultation if I was a "meaning robber."
I didn't see that shapes, colors, the relations of objects had energy.
Cézanne sees the wonder in the relation of rest and motion in
upright bottle is a staunch sentinel over this unruly bunch of
closely examined, its outline wavers, blurs with the air. The rim of
glass literally vanishes into air, mysteriously, as it reveals, blends
with and changes the onion behind it. I learned my notions of romance
dim lighting and "mystery" -- made for boredom, because they arose from
a desire to manage and dismiss other people and objects, which is
for reality. Cézanne saw the true wonder of how things meet in
painting -- how matter and space become each other.
an example of Cézanne's beautiful justice to objects, look at
foremost onion on the dish. Cézanne wants to give this onion its
full existence, its full depth and weight. This is what we want and
to give to other objects and to other people. Through brushstrokes that
look so spontaneous and rough, yet are so careful and delicate,
builds subtle layers, from vivid red-orange, to gold and white, to a
pinkish-orange. We feel the depth of this onion is tangibly there, as
surface radiates with light. We see the outline of this onion indicated
on the right, yet through the colors within we feel a continuation of
roundness of shape in every bit of surface, until on the left it seems
there is no outline at all, just color as form. It is breathtaking.
it is more beautiful through its relation to all the other onions, the
white dish and tablecloth, the dark knife, glass and bottle -- and it
out their beauty in return.
can learn from
Aesthetic Realism what Cézanne shows through these objects: that
seeing how we have the structure of the world in common with everything
and every person will make us energetic, alive. I am so grateful this