What you see is what you see.
—Frank Stella (*1936)
IN A WAY, starting to write this essay is already the dilemma in itself. The dilemma to talk about art. And while I start to think about it, the problem is not that much to talk about art, but how to talk about it.
It was only a few days ago, that I read reviews about Gerhard Richter’s latest exhibition, displaying a series of abstract paintings: they are titled Birkenau and deal with the horrors of the Shoah. Abstract art about the Holocaust. As an artist, I believe that I could sense what Richter was doing with this cycle of paintings. But as I read about people’s perplexed reactions (partially insulting, partially insinuating) of what these paintings are about, I realized again, what a complicated job it can become to communicate art, let alone talk about it.
Describing the indescribable
Words are always insufficient. Because words can never describe the thing itself. Words can only try to talk about it, approach it through the use of language, but never really capture it. We need art to go to these places inside of us, that language can no longer reach. For me, this was always the strongest and most important raison d’être of all art in the 21st century. Because, if words would be sufficient to express what needs to be said – well – then why produce the artwork in the first place?
What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who only has eyes, if he is a painter, or ears if he is a musician, or a lyre in every chamber of his heart if he is a poet, or even, if he is a boxer, just his muscles? Far from it: at the same time he is also a political being, constantly aware of the heartbreaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image … No, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war.
—Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)
As a visual artist, of course, I prefer to create art rather than talk about it. Naturally, in my function as a designer, I am used to talking about aesthetic principles. I am trained to talk about them. As a lecturer for graphic design, I have to go even further and teach my students about it. None of this was possible without the tool of language. And I have to argue professionally on aesthetic grounds, when I talk to my design clients, in order to make them understand, why we would choose a certain aesthetic approach for a project – or what alternatives exist. Lots of talking, as you can see.
All of this changes for me, however, when it comes to the visual arts. While design and graphic design are artistic by nature, using the language of art, they are always goal orientated, choosing its artistic tools based on the desired goal. The so-called visual arts, however, do not follow these procedures – apart from this very unique goal of expressing the music of the spheres, the poetry of earth, and in the best case touching people’s hearts, minds, and souls with it.
This brings us to the second part of the dilemma.: people’s unclarity about how to approach art.
While I was visiting friends and family in Munich the other week, I also went to one of the local museums of modern art. As I was silently enjoying a huge, wonderful cycle by Cy Twombly, it was almost impossible to escape yet another guided group of visitors, accompanied by an art guide with lots of words falling out of his mouth, telling them about what the artist did or intended and what they are looking at.
Yes, that is all interesting (no doubt about it) and it is also important, but I realized again, that there is something fundamentally wrong with this approach. It primarily and almost exclusively addresses the intellect instead of equally attacking the soul. On top of it – and maybe most importantly – the recipient is relieved of the essential work of getting personally involved, with a teacher standing there, telling him what to see and what to think – and therefore what to feel.
A visit to a museum
As I strolled through the Museum Brandhorst in Munich on this Wednesday afternoon, I had to think of Thomas Bernhard’s novel Alte Meister (Old Masters), where he describes art historians as the destructive power of all art. I do not necessarily agree with that (in fact one of my closest friends is an art historian and curator) and I do treasure the work they do — but they sure talk a lot!
The music of the spheres (to use this expression of Einstein) is sometimes silenced this way and often can’t be heard anymore. At the same time, a lot of people wouldn’t be open to hearing them anyway. And as I was looking at some of the works in the museum, I couldn’t help thinking that a number of artists don’t hear them either. But that’s another topic for some other time.
I think, if communicating art and talking about it, needs to have one goal, this is it: to help the individual find the music and poetry inside and connect them to their personal creative powers. To help them open these inner doors, so art can fulfill its humanistic purpose.
But … I am talking too much.
To talk or not to talk
And I am still left with my dilemma: whether or not to start a little series here on my blog, talking about my art.
A lot of my art deals with spiritual Jewish concepts. Those concepts are an inseparable part of the artwork. Therefore I am considering to create a little series, where I describe and explain a bit more about those concepts and how I implemented them in my work. At the same time, I always hope that this spirituality (even when not known in detail) shines through the works and their aesthetics and eventually allows people to be a key to their inner doors. Therefore: I shouldn’t talk about it.
To talk or not to talk.
I will still ponder the question.