Werner Popken on art and more

January 14, 2007

Blue Period

Filed under: Art,Blogroll,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 2:26 pm

Cutout from No. › 223 (private property) · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Cutout from No.  223 (private property)

”Painting is stronger than I” » Pablo Picasso is said to have claimed in his old days. Most probably he meant that he was not capable of controlling a painting, something different than he originally intended would emerge for sure.

This is most remarkable considering the high degree of virtuosity Picasso possessed, but it is even more astonishing that he even made the statement in the first place.

It emphasizes what was known from the report of » Françoise Gilot: Picasso tried to replace inspiration by construction. In other words: Sometimes he didn’t know what to do.

For most people, this is probably a normal state, but Picasso knew phases where he invented and developed outrageous things. And then he experienced longer times where he had to fight hard for his work to be done. Imagine this: He envied » Vincent van Gogh for the invention of new pictorial themes, for example his chair or his old boots, whereas he would only paint Madonnas or Eves. Incidentally, van Gogh is the prototype of an artist who doesn’t know what to paint, who always needs something in front of his eyes which he can copy, and sometimes it is the work of his admired colleague » Jean-François Millet.

»  Found at Google · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

»  Found at Google

Picasso tried to get along with cheap tricks, as he lectured to the young Gilot. Small head on huge body or the other way around, one hand large, the other small and more of this kind of petty games. The well-known theme of Memento Mori, “remember that you must die”, traditionally given by a skull, an extinct candle, thighbone and other appropriate symbols, was altered by him in substituting bones by leek.

So what? His lover took it as a revelation, and he himself didn’t notice anything.

As a matter of course, he used the well-known trick to copy and alter pictures of other painters in a big style fashion. But that isn’t it. He knew it and was very dissatisfied with himself and his work. And then once in a while something happened which he didn’t want and didn’t foresee, which surprised him. “Painting is stronger than I”. But that was the whole show anyway all the time. It isn’t important what somebody has in his head, and actually he knew that as well. Allegedly he didn’t want to paint what he knew, because he didn’t want to fool himself.

He really should have committed himself and let “painting” do its thing. Take an expedition’s journey, accept what comes along. With all these terrific repetitions and slight alterations he cannot have committed himself really. On the contrary, it seems to be quite clear that he circled around himself and wasn’t really open.

Well, that’s a tough thing to be. The surrealists have tried and declared “automatic painting” a method, but this collapsed very quickly. The involuntary production is obviously contradicting the artistic will to form. In contrast to a chimpanzee who swings a brush, for an artist it is common to presume a will to design, and indeed the artist claims exactly that: At least he decides if and when the work is valid and done.

Here we have the problem: I can only intend something that I already know and understand. If I refuse that, what can I do? Or to put it differently: How is it possible in the first place that something eminent will emerge which has not been known beforehand? It is undoubted that Picasso has created deep messages never seen before with many works like » Guernica, even if it emerged seamlessly from work done before, like in this case, as I could show in my essay » Studie zu Guerníca (not translated yet).

So I am back at my question: Who paints the painting? If I paint something which I know, then this is basically illustration, not art. Therefore painting not only has to reveal a certain degree of mastership in containment of the means, but also creation, just like a scientist can be considered initiated only after he has touched scientific virgin soil and has come back laden with new insights. An intellectual contention with artistic material can never satisfy in this respect, regardless of how ironic or virtuous it is presented. The existential shudder that we experience with great art can never be produced with these means.

If art works, the artist reaches beyond himself in this way. He produces something which he cannot understand himself. Therefore, it looks like something superimposed expresses itself through him, uses him. The jazz pianist » Keith Jarrett felt this very strongly during his very long solo improvisations; there is actually very little of this kind in modern art, although the artist claims the touch of the genius vehemently. The modern artist is ratiocinated, reserved, intellectual, he constructs more than he creates, he illustrates his thoughts. As the public is not deeply moved by these works, she tries to “understand” them to get at least an intellectual experience. For art historians and art facilitators, being rational thinkers themselves not able to be creative in this way, this state is enjoyable.

But what can we think at all? The real big thoughts befall the thinker just like the dreamer is getting his dream or the painter his picture. At the end of the 19th century, the first psychological societies were formed in Paris and London. The most eminent mathematician in France of that time, » Henri Poincaré, was asked to lecture about thinking for the Paris society. They presupposed that a mathematician should be the first to be able to reveal what thinking its. Imagine the surprise when they heard of an strange inspiration which solved the problem that he worked on for a long time already. Where did this sudden and unexpected inspiration come from?

Put this way, the phenomenon seems to be unusual, but actually we are prey to a very big illusion if we assume that we are master of ourselves and express ourselves all the time actively and consciously. Even in a day to day conversation the thoughts flow faster than the speaker can control, the ideas rush in, and we cannot pretend that “we” rule anything.

Of course, this puzzle is a challenge, we want to understand what happens. The time I was painting the picture from which I took the cutout above, I have produced a lot of photographs documenting the momentary condition. I hoped to gain understanding of the creative process in this way. It took quite a while until I realized that this isn’t possible at all. One of the figures that I would have liked to paint had to come to me in one of my dreams and elucidate me. Unbelievable. You just can’t invent this kind of thing.


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