(left to right) Lithography stone; 0 from Jasper Johns, 0–9, 1963. 10 lithographs, 20 5/8 x 15 1/2 in.; Jasper Johns, Target, 1960. Lithograph, 22 1/2 x 17 1/2 in; Both Johns prints published by Universal Limited Art Editions. John and Maxine Belger Foundation © Jasper Johns and ULAE / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.
I like that Jasper Johns looked at a blank lithography stone and decided the first image he would make with it was a zero. (I learned this fact on a recent staff tour of our current exhibition with Assistant Curator Renée Maurer.) It’s not difficult to imagine how a target came next–its basis is also a circle, also a symbol, but instead of quantifying nothingness, a target represents a very specific goal. Giotto famously demonstrated his artistic prowess by drawing a perfect circle without the aid of a compass. By beginning his printmaking career with the continuous, curved shape of infinity–first zeroed out, then honed in–Johns inscribed seemingly limitless potential.
Cecilia Wichmann, Publicity and Marketing Manager
Brice Marden, Ru Ware Project, 2007–2012, Oil on linen. Nine canvases, each: 24 x 18 inches. Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
In my book The Genius Decision: The Extraordinary and the Postmodern Condition I raise the question: How does one account for those rare and extraordinary works of art that set themselves apart from others? The experience of extraordinary works of art cannot be explained solely in geographical, cultural, or formal terms. In fact, the extraordinary in art cannot be explained at all. The event of the extraordinary in art remains inexplicable – a mystery that is traditionally described by the notion of genius. Even Sigmund Freud, when confronted with Leonardo da Vinci’s “unanalyzable artistic gift,” admitted to the failure of psychoanalysis in explaining artistic creation: “We should be most glad to give an account of the way in which artistic activity derives from the primal instincts of the mind if it were not just here that our capacities fail us.”
What distinguishes the experience of extraordinary works of art from other experiences is that it succeeds in uniting the shared experience of beauty with a noncommunicable personal experience of the sublime – a division that found its most extensive philosophical treatment in Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment, first published in 1790. Kant distinguished between a communal, pluralistic judgment of taste, the sensus communis aestheticus (which refers exclusively to the beautiful and is characterized by a universal comunicability without mediation of a concept) and a private, individualistic feeling of the sublime. Within eighteenth- and nineteenth-century aesthetics a fundamental change had taken place that shifted attention from the beautiful to the sublime, changing an originally populist notion of art into cultural elitism.
Continue reading “Experiencing the Extraordinary in Art” »