Unreal Nature

May 16, 2017

To Be That

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… intention involves such a small fragment of our consciousness and of our mind and of our life.

This is from the 1965 interview with Jasper Johns found in David Sylvester’s Interviews with American Artists (2001):

[ … ]

David Sylvester: I don’t in looking at your painting have the sense that I can pin down references, but I feel there are references there, and that these are what give the paintings their intensity and their sense that something important is happening or has happened. Is it possible that what has happened in the painting can be analogous to certain processes outside painting, for example, on the one hand, psychological processes, such as concentrating either one’s vision or one’s mind on something, attention wandering, returning, the process of clarifying, of losing, of remembering or of recalling, of clarifying again? Or that again there might be an analogy to certain processes in nature, such as disintegration and reintegration, the idea of something falling apart, the idea of something being held together?

Jasper Johns: I think that it is quite possible that the painting can suggest those things. I think that as a painter one cannot set out to suggest those things, that when you begin to work with the idea of suggesting, say, a particular psychological state of affairs, you have eliminated so much from the process of painting that you make an artificial statement, which is, I think, not desirable. I think one has to work with everything and accept the kind of statement which results as unavoidable, or as a helpless situation. I think that most art which begins to make a statement fails to make a statement because the methods used are too schematic or too artificial. I think that one wants from painting a sense of life.

[line break added] The final suggestion, the final gesture, the final statement has to be not a deliberate statement but a helpless statement. It has to be what you can’t avoid saying, not what you set out to say. I don’t know. I like the idea of very clear-headed procedure. I like the idea of being able to do what you intend to do. But I think that sort of language aspect of painting is not deliberate, it is not contained in our lives. I think it is our lives, you have to settle for that, and I think you even have to encourage it. I think the other becomes academic and not useful to us.

[ … ]

Jasper Johns: … I think one has to do everything that one can think to do; and one has to use everything one has to use; but, more particularly than that, I’m saying that I don’t think one should simply cut off a part of one’s energy and apply it for a certain result and then be delighted that one gets the result.

[ … ]

David Sylvester: Again and again you return to the way in which something is posited and then contradicted or departed from, so that you are constantly interested in the way in which intention and improvisation work together, in rather the same way as you are interested in how the conventional material you begin with, say the map, the letters or figures, is contradicted, reaffirmed, modified, submerged, clarified, within the process of painting. In other words, it seems to me that your constant preoccupation is the interplay between affirmation and denial, expectation and fulfillment, the degree in which things happen as one would expect and the degree in which they happen as one would not expect.

Jasper Johns: Well, intention involves such a small fragment of our consciousness and of our mind and of our life. I think a painting should include more experience than simply intended statement. I personally would like to keep the painting in a state of shunning statement, so that one is left with fact that one can experience individually as one pleases. That is, not to focus the attention in one way. But to leave the situation as a kind of actual thing, so that the experience of it is variable.

DS: In other words, if your painting says something that could be pinned down, what it says is that nothing can be pinned down.

JJ: I don’t like saying that it says that. I would like it to be that.

My most recent previous post from Sylvester’s book is here.




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