Werner Popken on art and more

January 18, 2007

Do the right thing

Filed under: Art,Blogroll,Culture,Kultur,Kunst,Leben,Life,Personal,Thoughts — Werner Popken @ 12:30 pm

Cutout from No. › 271a (private property) · © Copyright Werner Popken · © Copyright Werner Stürenburg

Cutout from No.  271a (private property)

The last couple of days, I was writing in German about the questions “Who paints?”, “Blue Period” and “Become who you are”.

Most naturally, I hit upon Picasso, as he is one of the greatest masters of the past century and we know very much about him. Here I mentioned an article I wrote a couple of years ago about the famous painting » Guernica.

Today, somebody told me about an article on the question of screaming horses. Most everybody knows that horses cannot express pain, but then people pretend that horses do nevertheless, especially in the context of war.

I was reminded of my article about Picasso once more and finally read it in full length. Picasso used tormented horse heads and bodies to express extreme painfulness. I wrote that I have witnessed horses groan from pain twice in my life, once during the death struggle of my horse. But as I thought about it again, it was actually rather a scream than a groan. But this was absolutely secondary to the article as such.

The whole article is highly interesting, but unfortunately not translated yet. I don’t know of any essay about this picture featuring these thoughts. Also, I found that I have expressed many of the ideas that I wrote about the last days much better and much more elaborate in the context of Picasso’s works centering around that masterwork. It’s kind of easier to write about somebody else than about your own stuff.

The question is, of course: What is art? When does form and color become something meaningful, something important, something not just illustrating any cheap old idea? There are so many pictures in this world, and every day some millions more are produced. You might look at auctions, museums, galleries, magazines, the Internet — you will find plenty of stuff more or less exciting. Which of all that will still be meaningful in a year, in five, ten, a hundred years, in a thousand years from now?

Yesterday I happened to stumble upon an essay called » How to Build a High-Traffic Web Site (or Blog). The answer is: It’s easy. Do the right thing and everything will care for itself. Don’t ask for immediate rewards, ask yourself what future generations will think about your contribution.

Do you know » Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? This is a very interesting novel digging deep into philosophy. After discussing so many things, the author asks: “How to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect, then just paint naturally. That’s the way all the experts do it.”

Well, easily said, but very hard to do, and in fact even the masters fail very often. Picasso for example failed most of the time in his later years, and he knew it, and that was the tragedy of his life. It is in this respect that the above-mentioned essay is revealing insight into the deep dimensions of great art.

The funny thing is that this picture doesn’t have anything to do with modern times, war, Spain, Guernica, and on top of that all the figures and symbols are utterly private to Picasso and have been used by him for years. But everybody understands, feels that this picture has something fundamentally to say that could not be said in any other way.

So that’s what art is about. A statement that could not possibly be made by any other means. Well, again, this sounds easy, but it isn’t. Take any big canvas, some buckets of color, some big brushes and put this color at random to the canvas. That’s a statement, correct? Couldn’t be done any other way. But it isn’t art, sorry. It doesn’t have any meaning. It could be more or less decorative, aesthetic and so on, but that wouldn’t make it any better in terms of future times. Any good designer has enough good sense to produce something nice or disturbing, whatever you expect from great art. It doesn’t make him an artist and it doesn’t make his product great art. If it would be that easy, everybody would do it all the time.

Don’t be fooled by all those guys telling you that this is really great art because it fills the museums and galleries and is private property at high prices at auctions. That’s all nothing in terms of the future. The higher you rise the thinner the air will become. The more you know the less you will appreciate, but what you do appreciate you will like more and more, beyond all means. And that’s great. You know and you enjoy. You don’t want to fool yourself. You don’t want to sell yourself something.

There is a nice story behind the picture that I took a cutout from as illustration to this contemplation. It was an eyecatcher in a gallery for many years, but nobody wanted to buy it. And one of these days when I thought I should have a look at it, the owner told me that it had been private property to a young couple who fell in love with it. Great! This picture is about something very substantial, and it is good for young people to have a look at it every day. It will remind you what life is about. Don’t waste your time.


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