Wait a second: is all this for you? — You may want to find out, so read on.
First: in case you want to learn, enjoy and especially improve your eye and aesthetic sagacity, please don’t be content with this little format here. You should —of course— try to get the best reproduction available, i.e. the most faithful to the original. Only then you can get an idea of what art may be and also what I am about to tell you.
A click on the image will take you there. Couldn’t be easier than that. But the adventure doesn’t stop here as you’ll see soon.
Well, didn’t you ask yourself: Why do I take the pain in the first place? It was a lot of work, believe me.
That one is easy. Of course, I did it all for myself to begin with. That is, I was really curious and anxious about the result. This is an attempt to test the strength and validity of a work of art (in this case: No. 212) by contrasting it with other pieces of art in a museum setting. I didn’t know beforehand what I would experience, so this was a real adventure and came out as a surprise. I am very pleased about the results indeed. It was worth all the effort.
I call this a Louvre Test, in honor of the famous Louvre experiment Picasso was granted 1944 in return for his gift to the French state after the liberation from German occupation (see Gilot, Life with Picasso, 1964). He could put deliberately paintings of his own next to any work of his choice in this famous museum to see if they would stand the direct comparison, of course without public participation, all in private. Picasso as well as every expert in any field knew that this is the ultimate quality test.
Of course, this reality check cannot be performed all too often. But these days, such a scenario can be enacted electronically quite easily, if you have the right tools and enough experience. After having simulated this very interesting experiment with other artists in a museum setting (and plain living environments as well), in this series I contrast one work after another with (more or less the same) works of the same artist, an idea I had at last, although it seems trivial in retrospect. You see this kind of arrangement — several works of the same artist next to each other — in real museums quite often, actually rather as a rule.
Now you know why I made these images in the first place, to educate me and myself only. But why do I publish them here? The reason is: I do have a pedagogical, philanthropical vein, also. That’s why you get a chance to grow on this experiment as well, if you want to.
Take the bait, look hard and see for yourself! Imagine how it might feel to be confronted with the original. How does this affect you? Would you like to get more of this experience or are you fed up with it fast? Would you even like to live with this in your private environment for some time, or maybe forever? (No, I won’t sell what I own, no chance. This is no sales pitch, mind you.)
Why do I stress your engagement? With art, as you may not know, you have to look, see and feel first and for all, not so much to know and reason and analyze, as you might have been told by way of education. It is definitely not about words, nothing about knowledge, and most probably does not enhance your peer esteem either. Instead, it is very much about you and your precious soul. Think about it: You are absolutely unique among all of us, living, dead or coming. A work of art may touch your heart and precious soul in a way that you may not even be able to tell others (or yourself) about.
That’s why images play such a big role in all kinds of ways, among them commercial or religious matters. If they told you in school: art is a discourse, hence you will have to talk about it or it does not matter — they were utterly wrong. Don’t mind, they just don’t know any better. The same holds true with all the experts. Museum persons, for example, manage things and people, they have to make sure their institution makes enough money to pay their wages, and that’s about it. Hence they lure you with whatever they have. Gallery owners are not experts, but salesmen in essence, no more, definitely not connoisseurs, whereas art historians are spoiled professionals who by professionalism no longer know what they like, and so on — anyway, why care about them, it is only you who counts. Adept art lovers definitely know for sure that the real wonders begin where language ends.
So having put language aside: Did you know that looking and seeing are different acts? Did you know that seeing is immediate, but looking takes a lot of time and humble devotion? Music consumes time in its own pace and then it is gone, at most to be recalled in memory. But visual art stays with you all the time. It is there, it does not move, change or disappear, and it works in your mind, if you want or not. You may think you see all of it at once, in just a single moment, but that is not the case, that is just the surface, you have to look and feel as well, you have to investigate the work with your eyes and watch your feelings, have to engage with the object, explore and experience it. Everybody knows you cannot translate music into words, but this is true for the visual arts as well. If you do not give it a chance, it will not open itself to you.
Now, if it does, what does it tell you? What is it that intrigues you? What subject is it about, what is the message for you, if there is any? Don’t mind if you don’t have an idea — I myself didn’t know what to answer to these questions for dozens of years. And still I cannot really communicate it, not even to myself.
Next ask yourself what that experience of letting yourself in with that work does reveal to you? Does it inspire, enlighten, warm you? Does it show you where to look deep within you? Does it help you to grow in the right direction? Remember, this is not about words, it is about feelings and intuition. Don’t waste time to try to communicate this, even to yourself. Just be aware of it. This is what I did. It seemed to be important, although I didn’t know why. I trusted that feeling. And I was kind of embarrassed about the fact.
There is one incident which was vital for my development. When I was 17, a friend of good age took me to Berlin, to the large National Gallery, then located in Dahlem, to show me exactly 3 paintings out of thousands being on display there, urging me several times to not look right or left as we hastily went through the huge halls in order to not spoil my eyes with random visual sensations. He was serious about this influence which I, being young and clueless, rather tended to laugh about. Then, in front of the last of those 3 paintings, the famous Man with the Golden Hat, then attributed to Rembrandt, he begged me to sit down and look at it for 10 minutes, saying: ‘I know, you are young and very impatient, but please do me the favor, try it.’ Then he controlled the time by his watch and asked me afterwards, if I experienced something. And indeed, I did have an experience, but only at the end of those seemingly endless 10 minutes. I never forgot this sensation. It profoundly changed my life and my experience of art.
Now I pass this lecture on to you in the hope that you will profit from it and experience the same, so it may change your life as well. Here is another one to illustrate my point: my brother, 11 years younger, helped me moving when he was 18. By way of precaution he had brought his own music for entertainment. After 2 days of ceaseless listening to his music over and over again, he said: ‘Would you mind playing some of your music?’ He had gotten sick of his own by repeatedly hearing it so much that the fear of hearing my music apparently dwarfed. There was no argument needed to convince him that this music was inferior and in fact not worth listening to at all. You see, nothing compares to experience. If you are experienced, you know, and if you know, you don’t have to argue about it. It’s that simple. It is not at all simple to become experienced, though.
I myself complained to a friend about music he had advised me to buy. I couldn’t get into it, although I had tried hard, and I told him about my objections. He didn’t argue. He simply said: ‘That’s all right, the music is fine, just keep on listening.’ Of course, he was right. My experience finally showed me all by itself. Good music gets better every time you listen to it. But beware: you have to concentrate and appreciate whatever it is. It will not talk to you while you are busily engaged with other things. You won’t do it anyway if you appreciate it. You will honor the work by giving it its due attention and devotion.
These stories strongly imply the topic of quality, quality of art in this case. The art historian Ernst Gombrich said: ‘If you’re not a wine drinker, you’ll hardly tell a good from a bad one.’. So you must gain experience first, that’s all too obvious, although most people don’t even get this. But how do you find out about quality? Why are some things better than others? Why don’t people get this and become crazy about crap? Many years of my life I spent contemplating the philosophical ideas of Robert M. Pirsig with respect to quality as laid down in his famous ‘The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’. He finds that quality cannot be defined nor talked about, neither found by reasoning, but can be known for sure by everybody through proper experience: ‘The more you look the more you see’. He topped his findings about the unique role of quality in every aspect of life by the statement ‘Quality is the origin of all things.’
This is all fascinating and nice and well, but unfortunately he misses the point. At the end of his book, he observes that there is a stunning relation between his description of quality and the term Tao as described by Laozi in his ‘Tao Te Ching’ some 2500 years ago. To give you an idea, here are some translations of the first verse:
The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.
The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.
(Translator: S. Mitchell)
Even the finest teaching is not the Tao itself.
Even the finest name is insufficient to define it.
Without words, the Tao can be experienced,
and without a name, it can be known.
(Translator: S. Rosenthal)
The Tao described in words is not the real Tao.
Words cannot describe it.
Nameless, it is the source of creation.
Named, it is the mother of all things.
(Translator: C. Ganson)
If you can talk about it,
it ain’t Tao.
If it’s got a name,
it’s just another thing.
Tao doesn’t have a name.
Names are for ordinary stuff.
There are good reasons that Tao can be equated with God. In this sense, the search for quality (or Tao) is a search for God. And this finally really makes sense. As Yogananda put it: ‘If you found God, the search is over.’ Now you might say: wait a little — who or what is God? Doesn’t science tell us that God doesn’t exist? Well, it depends on whom you ask. Heisenberg said: ‘The first slug from the jar of science makes you atheistic, but at the bottom waits God.’ Yogananda was one of those people who could talk about this. He had found God, and he convincingly tells us that God is first and foremost never ending joy: ‘Lasting, ever new joy is God. […] I say that God is Happiness. He is Bliss. He is Love. He is Joy that will never go away from your soul.’ (The Purpose of Life)
Yes, Yogananda talks about your soul. It’s the only thing you should care about. I did, although I didn’t even know for so many years, and that’s why I tell you. You see, as I publish my results, it is all about you, nothing else. It certainly isn’t about me, because I already know and I don’t get anything out of telling you apart from paying back my debt to an old man who wondrously took interest in me many years ago, now that I am his age. Art may show your soul what it longs for, as it did for me. And that’s why I love it that much.
This may be a bit over your head, but let me ask you this: What drove you here? What is it that makes you look at these things? What are you looking for? What is your need? Do you know?