Schnabel and Conventional Wisdom


My art-savvy friend Ingrid Sischy thinks Julian Schnabel (pictured) is the greatest of contemporary painters, and I have to admit that his works-on-canvas are sometimes extraordinary — much more so than is sometimes admitted by simpletons who think Schnabel’s paintings all feature 80s-era broken plates. (See this profile for a more balanced perspective.) At the same time, I have to agree with one half of the current culture-vulture Conventional Wisdom: not the half that says Schnabel is an overrated painter but the half that says his movies are more consistently high-quality than his gallery works. (It’s a cockeyed comparison, I have to admit: Schnabel’s made three features — “Basquiat,” “Before Night Falls,” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” — and dozens and dozens of paintings.) I’m rooting for Schnabel to pick up even more director’s awards for “Diving Bell,” which I think is brilliant in the way it recreates a living, breathing human consciousness. When I saw the movie Schnabel’s recreated consciousness of its paralysed main character made me think of the exchange between an elderly married couple in Tom Stoppard’s play, “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” currently on Broadway. The wife has been eaten away by cancer and complains about her husband’s view of the body and consciousness as “an amazing biological machine.” She says: “I do not want your amazing biological machine — I want what you love me with.” He responds: “But that’s what I love you with. That’s it. There’s nothing else.”

That’s irrefutable — and beautiful.

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