30 April 2021

Karen Kurczynski—Jorn's Artistic Reality

Kurczynski, The Art and Politics of Asger Jorn
p. 201—quoting directly a "somewhat humorous" passage of Jorn's:
What an artwork represents is quite insignificant. What the artist believes it represents is also insignificant. The effect the artist wanted to achieve is itself without interest. What the observer believes he sees in the artwork is in itself insignificant. The only thing that means something is the objective and real effect the art has exercised on the observer. That is the artistic reality.
Indeed, and it is a reality that usually cannot be known. We simply are (usually) not in a position to say with precision or certainty what the "real effect" is, and there are as many reasons for this as there are people. Hence also countless efforts (mostly therefore misguided) by all these people to ascertain/establish this reality. Jorn may be joking...but I'm not!

KK continues:
This emphasis on material reality, and what it does to the viewer in the moment of viewing, is the opposite of the romantic-Expressionist idea of truth, which implies a preexisting, hidden inner reality to which the external work corresponds. ...Jorn embraced the "superficial" instead, describing art as an encounter with the unknown in which neither lie nor truth exist. He believed in expression, but he also acknowledged that different viewers could interpret it in diverse ways. Jorn openly invited conflicting interpretations by making humor and irony key elements of his aesthetic. He replaced the truth of authentic expression with the reality of materials, setting in motion a play of interpretation.
The escape from this outmoded (and, I have always thought, strictly figurative) usage of "truth" is indeed urgent. One oft-overlooked reason is hinted at here: this notion of "truth" demands/imposes an opposite, the "lie," thereby forming a righteous binary, with all the attendant pitfalls that come with that way of looking at the world. But the affirmation of an equally fraught conception, the "superficial," seems also like a failure, certainly of rhetoric, perhaps of translation, and indeed also of logic (that is, of the same logic enumerated on immediately preceding pages). This usage is successful only in a strictly culturebound way, since "truth" was thought to be "hidden," ostensibly in the depth rather than the surface of works. That being as it is, seems to me that this "encounter with the unknown" elides not just the truth/lie question but certainly also the surface/depth one as well. If the "objective and real effect" of artworks on observers is in fact the only "artistic reality," then both of those toxic binaries are taken care of rather parsimoniously, not for individuals necessarily but certainly for institutions and dialogue among them. Similarly, the previous except re: "artistic reality" did not indicate at all that Jorn in fact "believed in expression" after all (!!) and also/already in the "play of interpretations." That combination is quite proto-postmodern indeed in both fact and folly; but it probably tells us more about the author than about Jorn: the consistency with which his supposed positions are inconsistent throughout the book is tough to parse any other way. Yet another example in conclusion: there are many ways to "[set] in motion a play of interpretation;" in fact there is practically no way not to, according to the bit on "artistic reality." Why then posit "humor and irony" as especially fertile devices for this purpose? Are both not, in fact, just as profoundly culturebound (especially to references) as any work or subject? (See many prior remarks in this notebook re: detournement.)

[from a notebook, 2018]

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