Friday, 6 November 2009

What is Pop Art...?

BLACK MAP - Jasper Johns.

'I just made it like I make things. I really have nothing to say about it.'

— Johns

Often I ask the question of whether 'art critics' make art famous ( from Ruskin and the romantics to Grafik magazine today) rather than the artist themselves...It is clear that artists who become timeless are talented. right? or is that just what we have been told.

This example of 'Black Map' by Jasper Johns, is undoubtedly open to interpretation, Johns quotes; ' I just made it like I make things, I really have nothing to say about it.' This could be a deliberate act of ambiguity, or is it that the work really does have no meaning, and it's just kind of what he felt like doing at a particular time.

Here is a 'critical explanation' of the work

"Johns is one of the founders of the Pop Art movement. The term is loosely and often inaccurately applied in our urgency to understand by classifying, but the use of so commonplace a subject as a map emphasizes the popular image involved. The map, 44 inches high by 70 inches wide, is executed as a charcoal drawing except for the southeastern states that are done in black oils. It is necessary to look sharply to make out the names of these southern states. They seem condemned to anonymity as if their names were unspeakable.

The names of the other states are clearly identified, but executed in a variety of lettering styles that are different in size, form, placement, and shading, a characteristic of Johns' treatment of letters and numbers.

In the West, the faint form of a hand is seen, as though California has been touched by a divine hand — or perhaps a commentary on those who think this is so.

The drawing area is sensitively shaded and textured with painterly strokes that often seem calligraphic. In addition to the calligraphic effect, an Oriental feeling is created by Johns' use of variation in the shades of black reminiscent of the Sumi ink painters of China and Japan, who recognize eight distinct shades of black.

This master artist has created a work of intense interest."

After reading this, does that change our perception of the work, definately yes; from a canvas, which is ambiguous, to a clearer, more digestable piece of 'art'. BUT does this make us like the work more, or did we prefer not knowing..?

I reference this in terms of my own work, often a very simple and basic idea can generate intriguing and 'visually interesting results' and the power of ambiguity should not be overlooked. For example, I recently took part in a one day project where in a group I had to create a 'MAP' of various data.

This is a replica of our response;

Replica of 'Map'

When described as a 'map' this image is intriguing, but once you explain the concept behind the 'map'...does the loss of ambiguity create a loss of intrigue.?

The task of 'mapping' was based around 7 songs, and each group (total 14 including ourselves) had to guess which of our tutors chose which song. In the original you now can see a horizontal line going through the centre of the image, with numbers + and - above and below the line representing right and wrong answers, and the scale from left to right being worst-best. the vertical line in the centre represents our group.

Here is a replica of the original;

When we had to present out work to the rest of the year, I found that once the work was explained and people knew how it was done...they no longer liked it, the idea not being overly witty or clever, changed their perception of the work.

I felt that not everything must always be explained, much to my tutors distaste. I understand the importance of a great idea behind something... but sometimes it would be nice to keep that idea to ourselves and just enjoy the work without explanation. After all, when people see our work in everyday life, we're not always going to be there to explain it to them. The work must speak for itself.


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