Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"But it doesn't mean anything!" Louisa Von Trapp

I came across the following excerpt in Jack Flan's book, Motherwell and while it's kind of long, I think it's worth the space because he so well describes his struggle to answer that irritating meaning question.

A few years ago, I was standing next to one of my huge black and white pictures (In Black and White No. 2) in a museum gallery, and a middle-aged man approached me and asked what the picture was about, what it "meant." Becaus
e we happened to be standing in front of the actual painting, I was able to look at it directly, instead of using an after-image in my head. I realized that the picture had been painted over several times and radically changed, in shape, balances, and weights.

At one time it was too black, at one time the rhythm of it was too regular, at one time there was not enough variation in the geometry of the shapes.
I realized that t
here were about a ten thousand brush strokes in it, and that each brush stroke is a decision. It is not only a decision of aesthetics -- will this look more beautiful? -- but a decision that concerns one's inner I: is it getting too heavy or too light?

It has to do with one's sense of sensuality: the surface is getting too coarse, o
r is not fluid enough. It has to do with one's sense of life: is it airy enough or is it leaden? It has to do with one's own inner sense of weights: I happen to be a heavy, clumsy, awkward man, and if something gets too airy, even thought I might admire it very much, it doesn't feels like myself, my I. In the end I realize that whatever "meaning" that picture has is just the accumulated "meaning" of ten thousand brush strokes, each one being decided as it was painted. In that sense, to ask " what does a painting mean?" is essentially unanswerable, except as the accumulation of hundreds of decisions with the brush. . . . In a sense, all of my pictures are slices cut out of a continuum whose duration is my whole life, and hopefully will continue until the day I day." (p. 8)

I think it's amazing how much intensity he gets out of these large shapes. He is not interested in subject matter at all - no figures, no things. "I am the exact opposite of an impressionist. I seek the eternal, which is like a rock, but Iwant m
y work to be sensual, too -- a cross between Mondrian and scribbles."

Here's In White and Yellow Ochre, 1961.

When eavesdropping on museum visitors I always think of the Woody Allen line, I think it's from Annie Hall, "it has a certain . . .negative capability."

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