Into the Avant-Garde: De Stijl

I’m currently trading David Hopkins’ Dada and Surrealism: A Very Short Introduction, alongside several books coming up for review, including Vincenzo Bilof’s The Violators and Philip Fracassi’s Shiloh. I’m doing this because I am woefully ignorant of the Dada and Surrealism movements. I figured if I’m going to run a blog about weird art, I better change this, and quickly.

Academically, I can only speak from my experience in the English department, but Dada and Surrealism was virtually absent from the curriculum when I was earning my BA. I don’t know if this holds true for other fine arts departments. Either way, I am documenting my Dada and Surrealism education here, appended with an invitation to readers who wish to join the journey.

In short, I plan to write a quick overview of movements, artists, and works I am unfamiliar with as I come across them in Hopkins’ book. I often find the best way to master a subject is to write about it, and I hope readers might find something of worth in my amateurish ramblings.

De Stijl


Theo van Doesburg, 1923

De Stijl, or “The Syle” in Dutch, aslo known as “Neoplasticism,” is cited by Hopkins as an early manifestation of avant-garde art, and one of Dada and Surrealism’s forerunner movements. The movement was founded in Leiden in 1917.

What I’m not going to do is summarize Wikipedia. I have read the Wikipedia article myself, and advise you to do so if you want a historical overview. In these posts, I intend to formulate a response to these movements. Silent Motorist Media, after all, was never intended to offer readers mere data. Here we revel in the arts. To revel is to celebrate in a Bacchanalian spirit of intoxication. Nothing is further from us in spirit than Wikipedia (although Wikipedia is awesome for its own purposes).

Neoplasticism utilizes a stripped-down pallette of primary colors, non-colors, and basic geometrical shapes to reconnect the audience with the abstract forms of experience. In this way, it seems to imply an emphasis of a mathematical primacy, similarly articulated in Alain Badiou’s philosophy. As avant-garde art tends to do, Neoplasticism seeks to seize art from the bourgeoisie and return it to the realm of universal experience in a modern world. This may seem strange, since a highly abstracted style only counterintuitively relates to everyday life.

Composition No. 10

Piet Mondrian, 1942

I recognized Neoplasticism immediately as “the fucking squares,” as I called the movement before reading about it. I’ve seen Mondrians in museums dozens of times, and never really could connect with them. I’ve always felt that the style pushes the distance between viewer and painting to the furthest extremes. I can now appreciate the intention behind Neoplasticism, but am still unable to find it aesthetically moving.

I am no art critic by any means. I am much more at home with literature than with music or painting. I am, however, moved by art in my capacity as a viewer, and am able to identify elements that elevate encounters with works of art to something beyond interactions with everyday objects. Neoplasticism fails to capture the quality of this transcendence, in my opinion. It seems, however, to do something important: it challenges the interprative mandate traditionally centered around the arts.

Neoplasticist literature would be immensely boring. It would contain little content in favor of an excess of form. I suspect it would look something like the following paragraph:

A preceds B, and B preceds C. D follows C, and is followed by E, etc.

Here, the formal elements of grammar are emphasized by emptying these sentences of content. An argument could be made that the very concept of meaning in art is radically challenged by literature of this sort. But I wouldn’t go so far as to call this subversion interesting, whether it’s important or not.

Neoplasticism is the beginning of a movement towards artistic radicalization that would eventually birth Dada and Surrealism. Does that make it “weird?” My amateur response is that “weird” art must meet the audience half way. This does not mean that it must embrace popular conceptions of content and form. On the contrary, weird art rejects popular digestibility and challenges the culture of instant gratification. However, it also resists explanation. This does not mean that it rejects meaning; rather, it turns meaning into an interrogative, leaving it open to a certain mystery that is anything but meaningless. Weird art turns the apparatus of meaning against the audience and presents it as a gap. This gap is an invitation, the halfway point at which the audience meets the work in a moment of awakened curiosity.

Neoplasticism cannot inspire curiosity. It fails to communicate. This should not erase its historical importance as an idea. It is an initial, invaluable, but ultimately failed thrust at the weird.

Architectural Analysis

Theo van Doesburg, 1923

Disagree? Please let me know in the comments! Again, this is an initial reaction to a movement I’m unfamiliar with in a field far from my own comfort zone. I am always happy to learn from the opinions of others.

© 2018 Silent Motorist Media

The Rapture and Weird Fiction: A Poem in which the Nude Scene in Westworld Proves the End is Nigh

I wasn’t aware that the world was ending… again… until I saw it on Facebook last night. Thank God for Facebook, I suppose. From Facebook I followed links until I made it to an article by Fox News regarding the rapturous calculations by yet another Christian numerologist (how many of them are there? Is there a special seminar you go to for that?).

Like a true American, the description of the Left Behind-style rapture (creativity doesn’t seem to be a strong suit for these numerologists. Probably a right vs. left brain thing) bored me quickly, so I went over to Fliboard.

Only half to my surprise, the “news” there was just about as ludicrous as the Fox News rapture. How cool is it that we live in a thoroughly surrealistic nightmare? I guess it depends on your definition of cool. Maybe moreso than it ever was able to do with socialism, consumerism has proved thoroughly conductive to the weird imagery of the avant-garde arts.

As the weirdness of “respectable” news outlets just grew deeper the more I read, inspiration struck. I decided to write a poem. Well, I didn’t really write it as much as assemble it from actual Fliboard headlines. I added some articles and transitions to give the poem some “sense,” but that’s about it. Without further ado, below is the poem.

The Rapture

It began like the first full penis and scrotum transplant on an American Military Jet.

Doctors warned women against putting wasp nests in their vaginas in a display of solidarity with aliens on ‘Super-Earth’ planets trapped by gravity. Verne Troyer’s tragic death underlined the

harm Mini-Me caused people until scientists confirmed Uranus smells like farts. (Yes, it’s official: Uranus smells like farts)

It’s too much. I combine weed and meditation to notice the gaps: The Fourth State of Consciousness. She told me she cheated on her husband because he’s a video

game addict, and that the Westworld nude scene proves the world will cease to exist on April 23. Believers will be absorbed into the heavens while nonbelievers are left behind and die over a period of about five months.

It began because my she donated her kidney to save me, but I’m no longer in love with her anymore. What do I do? I fall into the consoling notion that drinking gin and tonics soothes hay fever symptoms.

No, it’s no masterpiece. Technically it’s not even mine. It’s Fliboard’s poem. It’s the song of world news in the 21st century.

While it’s kind of funny, it kind of isn’t. This, obviously, is an environment ripe for extremism. The more outrageous and illogical your claims are, the more likely you are to be featured on the news. Guess who gets to be the spokespeople of our golden age, then? Who gets heard? Who, ultimately, teaches others how to behave? We can only hope that the answer isn’t Christian numerologists.

Besides, the news is stealing our shtick. As writers and creators of the weird, we must do something to keep our art from being bested by the Dadist mainstream. How shameful is it to be beaten at our own game by the same writers cuing David Asman’s teleprompter?

Or perhaps it’s our job as artists to counter with their supposed shtick: the truth. Someone’s going to have to clean up the mess the children have made. We might as well get a head start in the effort.