I stumbled across another of those “best” lists we see everywhere. This one was in the December issue of Vanity Fair. On this occasion, the list was drafted by museum curators, critics and art professors who were asked “to name the six most important living artists.” (“Paint By Numbers,” by Mark Stevens, Vanity Fair, Dec. 2103, pg. 166.) When I saw the names, I recognized 3, though I knew little about their work. The artist occupying the top spot was someone I’d never heard of, a German named Gerhard Richter. Richter and his runner up, Jasper Johns, whose name I did recognize, were described as “highly personal painters, but with selves so slippery that you can find them only in losing them.” (Ibid pg. 170)
I had no idea what that description meant so I turned to the internet for examples of Richter’s work. What I found were paintings like the one displayed below, a series of lines reminiscent of those stretchy bands I pulled across wooden frames to make potholders at summer camp when I was young.
Puzzled, I read more of Mark Stevens’ article and learned he believed these artists shared an “uneasy and provocative quality of ‘I’.” (Ibid. pg. 166) That meant, he explained, they refused to be tied to one genre or another, reflecting a modern impatience “with customary boundaries and scales, perhaps because staying within the lines seems an insufficient response to today’s world. “(Ibid 199.)
I studied Steven’s words for several minutes more and then gave up. Like quantum physics, some subjects are too bent for my brain to comprehend. But this I do know: when a writer is obscure, it’s usually because he or she is out of his or her depth. Do I blame the writer? No. Frankly, I can’t make sense out of Richter’s potholders either and I wouldn’t care to try. Whatever is going on in the artist’s mind, it’s stuck there and I gave up staring into other people’s navels long ago. Even Stevens, in a candid moment, admits, “Perhaps painting is now moving to the side, as poetry has, to cultivate its private garden.” (Ibid pg. 172))
Private garden my foot. Art that cultivates obscurity shows a contempt for the audience. Yes, the audience has an obligation to open its mind, but it isn’t required to be a mind reader. To be fair, some clues are required. Otherwise, that private garden becomes a secret one and betrays the trust of those who wish to comprehend. Once I’ve climbed the guru’s mountain, the guru had better provide a view that’s revelatory.
(Courtesy of www.pinterest.com)