Werner Popken on art and more

January 15, 2007

Become, who you are!

Filed under: Art,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 6:10 pm

Cutout from No. › 259 · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Cutout from No.  259

Yesterday’s musing was called  Blue Period. Of course, this was an allusion to Picasso’s “Blue Period”.

Up to this day people wonder why he painted blue for quite some time. As far as I know, he never made any statement about that.

In the beginning of the ’30s, an important exhibition of Picasso’s works were shown in Zürich. The psychotherapist » Carl Gustav Jung has written about this exhibition in a two-part article in the local newspaper “Neue Züricher Zeitung”.

For him, things were obvious. The blue color was a signal for the “Nachtmeerfahrt” of the painter, for the journey to the underworld. The pink color would, according to this way of reading, signal the return.

Bodacious, those findings of psychologists! For some time I believed that you can approximate art with this kind of approach. In the meantime I’m extremely skeptical. Was C. G. Jung an art expert anyway? He painted himself, but his paintings are all but illustrations for dreams. In this sense, painting is used as a method in Jung’s » Analytical psychology. The clients should paint their dreams.

In order to do this, you have to have dreams which can be painted, but this is no problem for the clients of the Jung school. Even if they didn’t dream in pictures before, they will as soon as therapy starts. Nowadays we have a really broad literature with appropriate image material. Strange to say, those pictures resemble pretty closely to the paintings of the founder of this school, a situation pretty much like in » Anthroposophy. In any case none of these works can be called art.

When I contemplated these ideas, it happened to me as well: I had dreams which were different from any dream I ever had. But this was only an episode. Twice I dreamt a series, once nine single dreams, another time three, roughly one week in between, if I remember correctly. That was it. Those dreams were not unimportant, they were definitely of Jung type, they were related to painting. But that’s a different topic. In one of these dreams one of the figures which I would like to paint approached me and advised me: “We would like to come to you, but please turn away the microphone!” I understood: He referred to the camera.

It’s funny that I painted a couple of pictures at that time which can be called “blue”. As I dated every picture, it’s possible to reconstruct the chronology. In retrospection, I had arranged some things incorrectly, therefore this information was very important when I wanted to get an overview years later.

You may construct a “Nachtmeerfahrt”, a journey to the underworld from this episode as well, following the pattern of » Orpheus as part of a hero’s journey, which was what life is about according to Jung, also called » Individuation: “Become who you are!” So here we are again:  Who am I?

I closed my musings yesterday with the statement that you cannot, as a rule, invent your dreams, fantastical as they are. And that’s the case with my paintings as well: I couldn’t ever invent them. Therefore the question:  Who paints? If the painter invents his paintings, you find out very quickly and don’t feel particularly well in consequence. That’s what makes the late work of » Salvador Dalí and many epigones so embarrassing. It’s just illustration and no more.

What is it that turns a picture into art? What is art anyway? What constitutes great art? Big questions, hard to find answers for. Anyway, as a young man I was totally on my own. School education didn’t prepare me for these questions at all.

The figures in picture  259, a cutout of which illustrates today’s contribution, are enigmatical enough. Assuming that this kind of painting illustrates problems of the personality of the painter, all the acting and not acting objects should be related to this person. This way we would be pretty close to the concept of » Analytical psychology, according to which dreams would have to be understood as representation of a bunch of so-called » Archetypes, usually persons of different age and sex, who are largely independent of the sex of the dreaming person, but do bear some significant sex-specific differences.

Would that help with respect to the painting? For some time, I had some hope, but didn’t follow this approach seriously. By chance, a dialogue developed on the occasion of my museum exhibition, which emerged into my opening speech (» On the meaning of the woodcut). At first, I was pretty much excited, but very quickly I found that the interpretation only touches the surface.

The lesson from two semesters History of Art is: Where words cease, art begins.

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