Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Johns, Biography and Content

Just before heading to SOVA for the holidays, I finished Jill Johnston's book on Jasper Johns, Privileged information. I had some trouble getting through the book due to some stylistic issues.  

Style issues aside, this book deepened my appreciation and affinity for Johns’ work. Central to Johns’ method is the stripping of meaning from the objects he has depicted, leaving flags, targets, numbers or whatever as simply compositional elements. Basically he would say, “What you see is what you get.” Possibly beginning with the crosshatch paintings in the 70s and more obvious by the earlier 80s, Johns was using more coded information that suggested actual subject matter and content. These paintings were dense and somewhat impenetrable from critical perspective. While some recognized certain imagery (Munch, Grunewald, etc) buried in these works, Johns would not discuss what the images were or what they may mean to him personally. Johns followed Duchamp’s theory that the viewer completes the art. I’ve always taken this to mean that it is not for the artist to explain what a picture is about, whatever the spectator gets from a piece is completely valid.  It is also not important to know any biographical information of an artist to experience the work. In the end, there is the work and the audience, nothing more.

Some artists make their work to try to explain themselves to the world. I have always made work for myself with the hopes that other would find them interesting. Like Johns, I’m not interested in revealing myself to the world yet it is hard not to use personal symbols or coding in my work. Moving to a more minimalist has provided some distance from discussions of “content.” I’m happy enough to reveal that the work is rooted in contemporary music that generally leads to pleasant conversations about music, steering clear of “meaning.”

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