Annotations for a photograph of a painting in a newspaper article about art from the time of two Germanys have reminded me of the irritating inverse relationship between, on the one hand, the quantity of erudite commentary on art and literature — and on the other, the artistic worth of its subjects, or the degree to which explaining them makes any sense.
Am I alone in thinking that a painting, of all things, should speak for itself? Without the detailed notes you’ll see if you click on the ‘interactive graphic’ here I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that I’m supposed to be looking at a neoclassical sculpture morphing into the face of a Baader-Meinhof terrorist. Fascinating, yes, to read that the painter, Lutz Dammbeck, is suggesting that ‘a fascist impulse survived well beyond the Third Reich and perhaps even drove the terrorist groups who saw themselves as the antithesis of Nazis.’ But does the need to say all that amount to a failure of communication by the artist? In my opinion, yes, but perhaps someone reading this post will convince me I’m mistaken.
Much worse was being told that the canvas’ rusty, drop-it-on-yer-foot steel frame weighs 60 lb. — to symbolise ‘the rigidity and irreconcilability’ of the killers.
The one note I did appreciate was learning that Dammbeck ‘used a shoemaker’s awl to punch holes in the canvas and a six-inch long needle to sew canvas fragments together with twine.’ I cannot pretend that that’s serious competition for a feat we’ve learnt about, on this site, from one of its mainstays – how Alarming, an installation artist, and his partner Sue, nearly asphyxiated themselves constructing a porcine colossus in pink silk . But in both cases, few of us could be expected to guess about such ingeniousness and toil on our own.
I also liked learning from the article that the Los Angeles exhibition of which the picture is part has been deliberately arranged to make it hard for visitors to guess which works are from the old East Germany, and which from the West. That would greatly heighten the engagement and interest for me.
A blog I came across at some online newspaper yesterday – I forget which one (since the writers and editors of that site make a point of never acknowledging ideas or facts they lift from bloggers) – reminded me that no art form is more monstrously burdened with commentary than the diminutive haiku. I’m not thinking of the newspaper’s thread-starter but of a particular performance in San Francisco about twenty years ago by the California poet Gary Snyder.
The way I remember it, the introductory lecture went on for the better part of an hour, perhaps longer – and then the mountain brought forth its mice, I mean haiku, in what seemed like ten seconds each. Not that Snyder himself resembled anything so dense and ponderous as an overgrown hill. The audience filling a room at least as large as the Albert Hall listened raptly, since the poet – dark and gravely handsome at that age – sat on the stage with a mysterious stillness, making for the irresistible presence you’d get by crossing a reformed Heathcliff and the Zen roshi he was on his way to becoming after years of training in Japan.
These lines, I’d suggest, really are all the exegesis that such a delicate construction should ever be freighted with. It’s the work of some internet imp who feels exactly as I do, judging by the title of his blog post:
Words in syllables
meaning frozen into portable bits
understanding is wordless
from Ming the mechanic: Strategic resilience through haiku patterns, Flemming Funch