Werner Popken on art and more

January 12, 2007

Who paints?

Filed under: Art,Blogroll,Culture,Kunst,Leben,Life,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 10:17 pm

Cutout from No. › 227  (private property) · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Cutout from No.  227 (private property)

I started this series in English, but I don’t really know why. Today I will write in German.

At the end of yesterday’s musing, I emphasized that the meaning of a work of art seems to be the major point. But what is the meaning?

“Bedeutend” (meaningful, significant, important, eminent) was one of the favorite words of the collector-at-large » Peter Ludwig. Needless to say he didn’t want to collect unimportant stuff — who would like to?

Nevertheless, people very often flirt with the unimportant, especially in Modern Art, which is understandable as a reaction against the overemphasis of the profound and the important of the saloon painting of the late 19th century. Considering this, it’s quite amazing that Ludwig liked eminence that much.

In a certain way this might relate to a kind of cat and mouse play between artist and collector. How void of meaning must a work of art be in order to make sure that even the least amateur will not find anything significant in it? Is this possible at all?

I dare to doubt it. In our society, the artist has adopted a kind of sacred role. He is the drunkard having a special direct connection to creativity no other can claim, who may safely be called genius, who may dare to despise and frighten the middle classes and who will not be penalized for this, quiet on the contrary he can count on adoration for him being different, being not integrated.

A couple of weeks ago, I have found an endeavor on the Internet driven by an Australian painter (» www.artquotes.net). More or less regularly he sends citations of famous artists via e-mail. Yesterday I received another one, one of the citations being by » Georg Baselitz:

The artist is not responsible to any one. His social role is asocial.. his only responsibility consists in an attitude to the work he does.

» http://www.artquotes.net/masters/georg-baselitz/baselitz-quotes.htm

Exactly, Baselitz is the master of the bad boys. You have to really contemplate about this statement. It doesn’t count that the work is important, it only counts that the artist states his claim. In the long run, this perpetual attitude of protest and the stress of provocation must be pretty strenuous. The public opinion gets used to most everything very quickly. You can hardly find any taboo that you can break these days.

One of those taboos concerns creativity — I just emphasized the common equation of artist and genius. In an interview some twenty years ago and most probably ever since, Baselitz has stated that talent is not crucial at all for the production of art and gave himself as a proof, because he lacked any talent. If that’s not shocking, what is?

But again, the number one rule of the public seems to be: Don’t let anybody make you feel insecure! The artist may act as insane as possible, we simply know that he is the genius, he can’t hide from us. And if he presents most banal productions, we know that every work of art is bliss, received directly from heaven, given in order to bring us redemption.

It’s absolutely absurd, and at the same time there lies some truth in this myth. It’s really hard to distinguish things, no wonder everybody is completely confused. By the way, even this is part of the game: How to confuse the world? In some sense I think this is a matter of self-defense. Just try to imagine it for a moment: A young man wants to become an artist. There shouldn’t be anything bad about this. But where would we get if we expected every young person trying to study physics to be granted the Nobel Prize within ten years?

But that’s exactly what happens with artists! The whole society is confused and the artists should produce meaning because nobody else considers this as his business and artists obviously have a special connection, a connection to some not really known instance, but in any case to some unit that can tell us something, that obviously uses artists and that can open up a dimension for society which cannot be obtained otherwise.

Not surprisingly, the young artist feels this expectation. He should produce something which nobody else has. No wonder that he grows angry. In the middle of the 60’s, as happens every once in a while, several artists have been interviewed about their work. Paul Wunderlich was one of them. I remember a section of his essay, although it’s more than 30 years now that I read it. He complains exactly about this expectation: He must produce importance every day, that’s what society wants him to do, although society doesn’t care how he copes with this demand.

Quite similarly, the wife of Joseph Beuys was cited. Most probably, her husband complained about it. Where should the artist take from what the public expects? In the case of Beuys people suspected that the artistic vein has to be seen in conjunction with his head injury in WWII. Most obviously you are a little bit different if you have something with your head. In this case it would be clear of why the artist is a little bit weird.

“Andy war hohl” (is it possible? My speech system DragonDictate writes what » Horst Janssen has transmogrified — Warhol = was hollow — Janssen had an uncanny sense for the language and very much language wit) — of course I meant » Andy Warhol who has stylized banality to a brand: “All is pretty”. He definitely refused to produce meaning, but naturally in vain. The critics and collectors have found tons of meaning and messages in his works.

» Gerhard Richter, he too, pretends again and again that he doesn’t have a message, that is painting you don’t contain meaning, and nobody wants to believe that (» “Mich interessiert der Wahn”). The title of the interview (”I’m interested in delusion”) seems to suggest that even a most sober artist like Richter is somehow related to delusion, delusion and genius being very close to each other as is commonly known, the one not being in reach without the other anyhow.

Well, it’s time for a change in subject. As an illustration for today, I have chosen a cutout from number  227. Again a woman is the center figure, adjacent to her a man being younger and obviously inferior. Does this painting possess meaning? Is it important? Or is it senseless, devoid of significance?

One thing I can tell: I didn’t put any meaning into this painting myself. In contrast to the painters of the 19th century I don’t have any idea how a painting should look like and what it should express. Of course, as a young man, I have tried to paint like this, but it was horrible. This way was definitely no way. Now I have painted this picture myself and in some sense I didn’t, because if I would say: “I have painted it”, it would sound like I had an idea which I realized in consequence. It definitely wasn’t this way. I wouldn’t be able to paint a picture like this at all. That’s why I rather say: “The painting has painted itself”, which isn’t correct either, because I have played my part in it. If it wasn’t me and if the picture couldn’t paint itself — who did it then?

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