Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"Wellen, Marina, wir Meer!"

The title of this post ("Waves, Marina, we sea") comes from Rainer Maria Rilke's elegy to Marina Tsvetaeva-Efron, one of the most noble powerful statements against ego in Art I happen to know, made by a great poet on the verge of his death.

On the right is a collage of nine  paintings corresponding to nine Shakespeare's sonnets, from 10 to 18, and linked, in various ways, to work of four great painters of the past and also to the deepest and most painful depths of my own mind and soul. To put it another way, they represent two strategies of relinquishing my ego and connecting, as a wave, however small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, to the sea Rilke talks about.

Inevitably, it is also my statement against the quest for novelty and "originality" in painting (or in art in general, for that matter). In contrast to Science, with its accumulation of knowledge based on previous discoveries insights, there is no progress in Art: it deals with ever essentially the same universal challenges of human condition, which everyone has to meet and resolve anew, for themselves. 

The works of art are here to help us, to show us some pathways, to give us an Ariadne's thread. The answers we find will rarely be new or "original", but they cannot be borrowed from anyone else, only found in the mazes of our own lives and minds. And so the power of an artwork is not in its dubious originality, but in the strength and universality of the thread it offers to hold onto in this maze. 

But there is something, I believe, particularly ridiculous in the quest for originality in painting or other works of visual arts which have to be original to really work (all puns intended). A novel, a poem, even a movie – they can all be reproduced infinitely and thus reach, in theory, every person in the world. Yet everyone who has ever been to a museum knows that a painting cannot be really reproduced (at least not now), which means that they can reach only a small fraction of people – and even these people would often see it in crowded room, for too short a time, with severely limited possibility of a real connection, which happens when you perceive the work for a long time, in solitude and silence. The quest for originality in painting is a quest to gain one's place in a crowded museum, in the books on art history – not to touch the souls or to enhance people's lives, which is, when all is said and done, what it ought to be about. 
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